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CONTEXT: Young women frequently cite concerns about the effects of unplanned pregnancies on future life course outcomes, including education, employment and relationships, as reasons for seeking abortion. There is relatively little evidence as to whether abortion leads to improved life course outcomes for young women who choose this option.

METHODS: Data from 492 women participating in a 25-year longitudinal study of a New Zealand birth cohort were used in regression models that examined the relationship between pregnancy and abortion history prior to age 21 and selected social and economic outcomes at ages 21–25.

RESULTS: Compared with young women who became pregnant before age 21 but did not seek an abortion, young women who had an abortion had significantly better outcomes on six out of 10 measures spanning education, income, welfare dependence and domestic violence. Adjustment for confounding factors indicated that most of these differences were explained by family, social and educational characteristics that were present prior to pregnancy. Nonetheless, even after adjustment for confounding factors, young women who had abortions had higher levels of subsequent educational achievement than those who became pregnant but did not have abortions.

CONCLUSIONS: Abortion may mitigate some effects of early unplanned pregnancy. However, further study of its potential risks and benefits is needed so that women can make fully informed decisions as to whether to terminate unintended pregnancies.