Deciding whether to have an abortion is a deeply personal medical decision and when women aren't given a choice on what they can do, the impacts can be profound. In fact, a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that denying women abortions can have a devastating impact on children.
The new study, published earlier this month, showed that children of women who were denied an abortion were more likely to suffer from "poor maternal bonding" and lived in poorer households. In contrast, according to the research in JAMA, abortion access allowed women to have children when they were more financially and emotionally prepared.
The new research — conducted by University of California, San Francisco along with the group Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) — is the first of its kind in the United States, which allowed researchers access to children of mothers who were denied abortions, according to JAMA.
For the study, researchers looked at answers from 146 women who were denied an abortion and 182 women who had abortions and went on to have children afterwards. Researchers used the popular Postpartum Bonding Questionnaire (PBQ) to measure the participants current state of mind and feelings, and anyone who scored at 12 or above on the test were considered at "risk for poor bonding." According to the research, only 3 percent of children born to women who received a previous abortion met the threshold for poor bonding compared with 9 percent of those who were denied abortions.
So what does bonding with your child mean, exactly? Bonding is the emotional and psychological connection between a mother and a baby; this bond is what drives a mother to care for her baby in every way possible, according to The Encyclopedia of Children's Health. It also affects early development, personality, and ability to adapt to the challenges and changes in life.
"Scientists are still learning a lot about bonding. They know that the strong ties between parents and their child provide the baby's first model for intimate relationships and foster a sense of security and positive self-esteem," Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD previously explained to Kids Health, adding that it can also "affect the child's social and cognitive development."
Essentially, maternal bonding is crucial. However, as this new research shows, when women are denied the ability to make a choice about whether they're ready, or want, to have a child, this bond can be strained.
As Tracey Wilkinson, MD, MPH, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine and a fellow with Physicians for Reproductive Health, said in a recent press release announcing the study:
Maternal bonding is an integral part of infancy that impacts the rest of a child’s life. Research shows that strong bonding can boost a child’s immunity, prevent diseases and boost their cognitive development. It’s important that women have the resources to make the reproductive health decisions that are right for them, including access to abortion. The ability to decide when to become a parent can be an essential part of ensuring a bond between parent and child."
Reasons behind a woman's decision to have an abortion are as varied as the women themselves. But, according to the National Institute of Health, financial hardship is the main reason women seek abortions, and access to an abortion gives women a choice and the ability to have more control of her future.
Though the topic of abortions continues to be controversial, one in four women in the United States will have an abortion before the age of 45, according to the Guttmacher Institute. And while there aren't specific numbers on how many women go on to have babies after an abortion, many have shared their experiences of having successful pregnancies afterwards as well as having fulfilling lives as mothers when the time is right.
And that's exactly what this new research highlights and what's at stake if women are given less reproductive freedom. As Diana Greene Foster, PhD, Director of Research at ANSIRH and lead author of the study, said in the same press release:
This research shows the major benefits of allowing women to choose when and whether to have children, not just for the women themselves, but for their families. As confirmation hearings begin for a Supreme Court justice whose appointment could lead to the Court upholding more restrictive abortion laws, it is particularly important to understand the wider health and social consequences of women being denied access to abortion.
It's been 45 years since Roe vs. Wade, a case that lead to the legalization of abortion. Since then, the numbers of abortions performed in the United States have ebbed and flowed, which may reflect more widespread access to birth control. The number of abortions increased gradually from 1973, then peaked in 1990 and has been on the decline since then, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Many factors can contribute to a woman's decisions to continue a pregnancy or have an abortion. For those who get denied, the effects can be lasting, not only for them but for their children. The decision to carry a child and raise it, is one of the biggest decisions a woman will ever make, and having a choice on whether or not to do so should continue to be available.