Emotions over five years after denial of abortion in the United States: Contextualizing the effects of abortion denial on women's health and lives

Soc Sci Med. 2021 Jan:269:113567. doi: 10.1016/j.socscimed.2020.113567. Epub 2020 Nov 29.


Background: The Turnaway Study was the first to follow women denied abortions because of state law or facility policy over five years. The study has found negative effects on women's socioeconomic status, physical health, and on their children's wellbeing. However, women did not suffer lasting mental health consequences, prompting questions about the effects of denial on women's emotions.

Methods: In this mixed methods study, we used quantitative and qualitative interview data from the Turnaway Study to offer insight into these findings. We surveyed 161 women who were denied abortions at 30 facilities across the United States between 2008 and 2010 one week after the abortion denial and semiannually over five years. Mixed-effects regression analyses examined emotions about having been denied the abortion over time. To contextualize the quantitative findings, we draw on in-depth qualitative interviews with 15 participants, conducted in 2014-2015, for their accounts of their emotions and feelings over time.

Results: Survey participants reported both negative and positive emotions about the abortion denial one week after. Emotions became significantly less negative and more positive over their pregnancy and after childbirth. In multivariable models, lower social support, more difficulty deciding to seek abortion, and placing the baby for adoption were associated with reporting more negative emotions. Interviews revealed how, for some, belief in antiabortion narratives contributed to initial positive emotions. Subsequent positive life events and bonding with the child also led to positive retrospective evaluations of the denial.

Conclusions: Findings of emergent positive emotions about having been denied an abortion suggest that individuals are able to cope emotionally with an abortion denial, although evidence that policies leading to abortion denial cause significant health and socioeconomic harms remains.

Keywords: Abortion; Abortion denial; Coping; Emotions; Pregnancy termination.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abortion Applicants*
  • Abortion, Induced*
  • Child
  • Emotions
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Pregnancy
  • Retrospective Studies
  • United States
  • Women's Health