NRL News

Takeaways from the UCSF Abortion “Turnaway” Study

by | Jan 4, 2013

By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., NRL-ETF Director of Educational & Research

Part 2 of 5: Finding What They Looked For

Editor’s note: As noted Wednesday, researchers the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) conducted a five year “prospective longitudinal” study beginning in 2008 looking at the repercussions of a woman being “turned away” from an abortion clinic.  According to released summaries of the study, participating clinics turned away about 1% of abortion seekers.

While the lack of a formal published study makes it difficult to do a full analysis, we do know a few details from press coverage, P.R. releases from the website, and conference presentation summaries.


Randall K. O'Bannon, Ph.D.

Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D.

Nearly half of the women (43.5%) called and about a third (34.5%) visited at least one other clinic looking for an abortionist willing to do their later abortions.  While there were generally no significant sociodemographic differences between those just below the limit receiving abortions and those just over the gestational limit who did not obtain the abortion, the “turnaways” were more likely to be age 19 or younger.

Implied here is persistence, but it may have been just a matter of women being unaware of limits individual clinics had put upon on themselves, and checking around.  As for more of the “turnaways” being teens, this is unsurprising; teens tend to be more likely to seek later abortions than adults do.  When it comes to economic and psychological factors, teens are less likely to be economically self-sufficient and more anxious about their futures. This may somewhat skew the sample.

One of the claims receiving the most attention in the press was that women “denied” abortions ended up worse off economically than their counterparts who had abortions. 

Before the abortions, the study says, 45% of women in both groups were on public assistance and 2/3rds had household incomes below the federal poverty level (FPL).  A year later, 86% of women who did not abort were living with the baby; 11% had placed the baby for adoption. What happened to the remaining 3% is not specified. 

Those “denied” abortion were more likely to be on public assistance (76% versus 44%) and to have income below the FPL (67% vs. 56%). Slightly fewer of those not aborting (48%) had full time jobs a year out than those who had abortions (58%).

A few things are worth noting about these claims. First, notice that, at least in regard to one important criteria, having the abortion did not tend to significantly improve the woman’s economic condition.  Forty-five percent were on public assistance before the abortion, 44% after.  Most still had income below the federal poverty level and just barely more than half had full time employment.

Second, the sudden increase seen in public assistance may have been due, theoretically, at least in some part, not so much to worsening economic conditions, but to women becoming eligible for new or additional assistance because of the birth of the child.  Without more details from the official study, it is difficult to say.  The fact that most women on welfare tend to move off it within two years is not mentioned (see NRL’s factsheet on the economic impact of abortion at ).  

Note as well that nearly half of these women had full time jobs after their birthing their babies; the slight difference between the aborters and non-aborters could have easily been due to some of those women choosing to stay home with the child.  Again, without access to full data, we can’t know for sure. 

One of the bigger stretches is the effort to try to link “denial” of an abortion with domestic violence. UCSF researchers say that before the effort to obtain an abortion, there was no significant difference between the “turnaways” and the control group who received abortions just under the gestational limits.

Those presenting these findings claim that a survey done a year later “suggest that being denied an abortion may increase women’s exposure to PIPV [physical intimate partner violence],” but the data offered does not appear to show significant differences. 

“Turnaways” were only slightly more likely to have a relationship with the father (50%) than the aborting controls (46%), though the presence of the father’s child might more than account for that minimal difference.  Only a slightly greater percentage in the control group (62%) than the non-aborting group (59%) perceived their relationship as good or very good.

Researchers say that “turnaways” were “significantly more likely to have experienced PIPV in the past 6 months,” reported by 7%, versus 3% for the aborting women.  This is a serious issue, no matter the percentage, but it is unclear how it might or might not be related to the altered family dynamics or other factors. 

The percentages given indicate that there were perhaps three more abusive partners (unspecified whether this was the father) in the group giving birth (16 versus 13.5) than those aborting, making it difficult to see and understand larger patterns.  This is a situation where sample sizes may be a problem.

Almost offhandedly, the researchers admit that “The high prevalence of intimate partner violence (IPV) among women seeking abortions is well-established.” How they are connected is not clarified by the data offered here.  If as presented, domestic violence went down in both those aborting and giving birth.  Was this a matter of the immediate crises being past?  How much of that violence was brought on, or at least exacerbated by, the availability of the socially sanctioned, legal violence of abortion?

Does abortion end this violence, or does it help foster the development of the sort of men who have neither the self control nor the desire to act responsibly toward the women they sexually exploit or the children those fathers create?  The data offered here raises more questions than it answers.

Editor’s note. Read Part One here.

Sources of Information on the UCSF “Turnaway” Study:

“Turnaway Study,” report of the UCSF group doing the study, Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health website, at , accessed 11/29/12.

Summaries of UCSF research team presentations on “Turnaway” study at American Public Health Association 140th annual meeting and expo, San Francisco, CA, October 27-31, 2012, and, accessed 11/13/12


Categories: Abortion Clinic