Here is the full transcript of Diana Greene Foster’s talk titled “What Happens When We Deny People Abortions?” at TED conference.
Demographer Diana Greene Foster’s talk, “What Happens When We Deny People Abortions?”, discusses the profound impacts of denying women access to abortion through the lens of her groundbreaking Turnaway Study. She shares personal stories of her grandmothers’ experiences with unwanted pregnancies to underline the issue’s personal relevance.
The study compared women who received abortions to those who were denied, finding no evidence of mental health harm from abortion but significant physical, economic, and social detriments for those who were forced to carry pregnancies to term. It showed that denying abortions led to worse physical health outcomes, increased economic hardship, and hindered personal and educational aspirations.
Over time, while mental health outcomes initially differed, they eventually converged, highlighting that the main disparities lie in physical health and socioeconomic status. Foster argues for the importance of access to safe and legal abortion as a matter of personal and family well-being, supported by data showing the vast majority of women felt their decision to have an abortion was right for them. Her talk emphasizes the critical role of abortion access in allowing individuals to control their bodies, lives, and destinies, challenging assumptions and highlighting the need for policy change.
Listen to the audio version here:
I’d like to start by telling you the story of two women born early in the 20th century. They lived on different coasts, had different religious backgrounds, and were in different stages of life when each experienced an unwanted pregnancy. Sally was newly married at the start of the Great Depression. She and her husband decided they couldn’t afford to start a family yet, but abortion was illegal in New York City. So she traveled to Puerto Rico to get an illegal abortion.
Dorothy had recently graduated from high school when she became pregnant by a much older golf instructor. Her conservative parents shunned her, and she had to go away to a Salvation Army home for unwed mothers, where she gave birth and placed the child for adoption. These women were my grandmothers, and they’re part of the reason I became a demographer and professor studying the causes and consequences of unintended pregnancy. For years, people have alleged that abortion harms women.