Women have abortions every day. While for some it’s an inconceivable act, for others it’s the only way out of an unwanted pregnancy, and an unplanned future. But how does abortion access influence women’s abilities to achieve their goals in the future?

According to a recent study published in the journal BMC Women’s Health, more women who get abortions have aspirational goals, defined as positive outlooks for the year ahead, than those who carried a pregnancy to term because they were denied an abortion.

Before exploring the effect abortions have on women’s futures, it’s important to understand the reasons why some women have them. In a 2005 study, women commonly cited a child would interfere with their education, work, or ability to care for dependents. Others felt they could not currently afford a baby, did not want to be a single mother, or were having relationship problems that were not conducive to raising a child. This suggests the decision to have an abortion is motivated by diverse, interrelated factors such as resource limitations like financial restraints and a lack of partner support, as well as feeling a sense of responsibility to other children or family members.

This has led researchers from the Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) to analyze the effects of having an abortion on achieving aspirational one-year plans. The ANSIRH researchers used data from the Turnaway study, a larger study from the ANSIRH, which gathered information from more than 1,000 women recruited from 30 abortion facilities throughout the country. Researchers only sought to compare women who wanted an abortion, and either received it or were denied, rather than women who chose to keep their unwanted pregnancies, without attempting termination.

Based on data from the Turnaway study, over 800 participants were grouped into four categories: "Parenting turnaways,” or those who were denied an abortion and ended up raising the child; "non-parenting turnaways,” those who were denied, but gave up the child; "near-limits,” those who received an abortion just before they reached gestational limits; and lastly, "first trimesters,” those who received an abortion in their first trimester of pregnancy.

One week after being recruited, the participants were asked to answer the question, "how do you think your life will be different a year from now?" Follow-up interviews 6 months and one year later were conducted to see if the women were achieving their goals. Researchers defined 80 percent of the goals of all the participants as "aspirational" or as having "a positive plan for the next year.”

The findings revealed women who were denied an abortion were significantly less likely to have positive goals, and to achieve them for the next year, and those that planned to raise the baby were less likely to have career-oriented goals. Participants in the first trimesters and near-limits groups were more than six times more likely to share aspirational plans for the next year than parenting turnaways. This is most likely because they were too caught up caring for their newborns.

"Many turnaways may have scaled back their one-year plans knowing that they were going to have to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term," wrote the researchers.

Relationships also factored into the participants’ decisions to get an abortion. One-third of women in the study reported that their partners factored into their decision to seek an abortion. Those who were denied an abortion were slower to end their unsatisfactory relationship than those who had an abortion.

This study emphasizes that the option to have an abortion is crucial in order for women to take control of their lives.

“[It] shows that abortion enables women to aspire for a better life in the future and achieve these goals,” the researchers concluded.

Getting an abortion did not make these women happy, but it did give them the option to live the lives they imagined.

Sources: Upadhyay UD, Biggs MA, and Foster DG. The effect of abortion on having and achieving aspirational one-year plans. BMC Women’s Health . 2015.

Finer LB, Frohwirth LF, Dauphinee LA et al. Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitative Perspectives. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health . 2005.