A Systems Perspective on Unintended Consequences of Abortion Bans

Policy decisions frequently have negative outcomes that are not anticipated when legislators try to force a change in social mores. Recently a number of conservative U.S. states have enacted bans on abortion, criminalizing both performing and having an abortion.  The specifics of what has been made illegal vary from state to state.  More liberal states continue to permit abortions, at least up to a certain stage of pregnancy and with exceptions allowing abortion in later pregnancy for the life and health of the mother.

In addition, some conservative states are legislating that legal personhood begins at the moment when a sperm penetrates the ovum.  This is even before the fertilized egg implants on the uterus to begin pregnancy.  This ruling particularly affects both treatments such as in vitro fertilization and some forms of birth control.

The differences between the policies of various states will inevitably lead to a number of unintended consequences.  These are expected to include the following:

  1. Fertility treatments will virtually disappear in those states that define legally protected personhood as beginning at the instant of conception.
  2. Obstetricians and gynecologists will disappear from those states with highly restrictive policies on abortion and fetal personhood. These medical practitioners will judge the legal risks to be too great, and will move to less restrictive states or retire.  This situation will seriously affect women in these states who need gynecological and obstetric care.
  3. In states with bans, there will be an increase in dangerous illegal abortions and women will die or be injured as a result.
  4. There will be an increase in the number of children born with severe congenital disabilities that could be detected early in pregnancy, such as Down syndrome.
  5. There will be an increase in these states in the number of young single mothers requiring public assistance.
  6. States with highly restrictive abortion, birth control, and fertility policies are going to find young people will not want to settle there and will seek to move to less-limiting locations. Companies in these states will have trouble recruiting young staff.  Colleges and universities in these states will struggle with enrollments.
  7. There will be an increased burden on the states’ criminal justice systems to investigate, indict, try, convict, and incarcerate people for abortion crimes.
  8. There will be an increased burden on medical personnel in the states to detect and monitor pregnancies and investigate miscarriages in order to report to state authorities.
  9. Medical schools in the states with restrictive policies will experience declining enrollment, likely leading to reduced general quality of medical care in the states.

While these state policies are promoted as being “pro-life”, they will have multiple adverse consequences, reducing the quality of life for women and their children.

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