Anti-abortion lawmakers around the country have passed restrictions on women's health for years.
However, a large longitudinal study shows that women who are denied abortions – and continue to have children – have poorer health results years later than women who receive abortion.
The latest results from the Turnaway Study, conducted by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, compared the health of approximately 330 women who had abortion during their first trimester with 380 who had abortion during their second trimester and over 160 who tried to get abortion but who turned away. The latter women were denied access to the procedure because they were above their clinical pregnancy limits.
Five years after the women either had abortion or were denied, they answered questions about their overall health, as well as specific problems such as chronic pain, headache and high blood pressure.
The women who could get abortion generally assessed their health about whether the procedure occurred during the first or second trimester.
But those women who were denied abortion and went
Some 27% said their health was "fair" or "poor" compared to 20% of women who had a first trimester's abortion and 21
They also reported more headaches and joint pain, although all three groups had similar frequencies of other types of chronic pain and obesity.
"The argument that abortion is harmful to women's health is certainly not supported by data," Dr. Lauren Ralph, author of the study and an epidemiologist with the university's progress for new standards in reproductive health projects, HuffPost.
"Instead, we consistently found that when differences arose, women were denied abortions and were born far worse," she said.
The new results do not show cause and effect, so it is unclear exactly why women who were denied abortion reported poorer health problems years later. Ralph said that in some cases birth may have exacerbated existing health problems that women already had. Pregnancy and childbirth can also cause long-term health problems such as neck pain.
But that's probably not the complete picture.
"There is this complex link between health, socio-economic status and stress," Ralph said. "I would guess there are a number of factors."
The vast majority of US states prohibit abortion after some time during pregnancy. About half have laws that set that ban as early as 13-24 weeks – about the second quarter – often based on the ignorant claim that a fetus can feel pain around 22 weeks.
And some states have begun to limit abortion at much earlier stages of pregnancy, as the recent increase in abortion prohibition during six or eight weeks of pregnancy. None of these laws currently apply, and many face legal challenges.
The Turnaway study tracked nearly 1,000 women in total and was recruited at 30 abortion clinics over 21 states between 2008 and 2015. The study group talked to them about a week after they either had or were aborted and then half-yearly for five years.
Previously, researchers with the same dataset found that women who received abortion did not have any long-term negative psychological effects. However, women who were turned away reported greater anxiety and lowered life expectancy and self-esteem shortly after they were told they could not get abortion.
Medical organizations such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists stress that access to abortion is an integral part of women's health care.
"Where abortion is legal, it is extremely safe," said the college in a committee statement from 2014 requiring increased abortion access. "The risk of death in connection with childbirth is about 14 times higher than with abortion."