More U.S. Children Enter Foster Care in States With Abortion Restrictions

TUESDAY, Nov. 7, 2023 (HealthDay News) -- When states have restrictive abortion laws in place, more children end up in foster care, new research finds.

This happened even before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, the investigators noted.

The study, published Nov. 7 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, found an 11% overall increase in children placed in foster care in states with TRAP laws compared to states without such restrictions. For Black and minority children, that increase was 15%.

TRAP (Targeted Restrictions on Abortion Providers) laws have existed since abortion became legal in 1973, as some states passed laws that limited access to abortion by restricting what clinics could and couldn’t do. Often the restrictions were so onerous that clinics just closed. Essentially, that means that while abortion might be legal in a given state, finding a clinic or provider to perform an abortion may be nearly impossible. Twenty-three states have such restrictions.

In the new study, researchers compared the number of children who were conceived between 1990 and 2011 and placed in foster care between 2000 and 2020 in states with and without TRAP laws. More than 4 million children went into foster care during this time period.

“Limited access to abortion has significant personal impacts for the mothers and children affected, but also broader national economic and policy-level implications,” senior study author Ashley O’Donoghue, an economist in the Center for Healthcare Delivery Science at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, said in a news release. “With the repeal of Roe v. Wade, and many states already facing overburdened foster care systems, it is important to study the impact that restricted abortion access has on the foster care system to help inform future policy changes.”

“Our findings highlight the complex interplay between race, socio-economic status and abortion, noting that those who are less able to provide for their children may be the most vulnerable when denied an abortion,” O’Donoghue added. “Policies that restrict abortion may contribute to the overrepresentation of racial and ethnic minority children in the foster care system, perpetuating inequities and further straining vulnerable populations.”

Unfortunately, the overturning of Roe v. Wade will likely only make matters worse, said study co-author Savannah Adkins, a lecturer in economics at Bentley University, in Waltham, Mass.

“Now, with a total restriction of abortion in certain states, we’re obviously going to see this being exacerbated,” Atkins told CNN. “We need to take into account these effects when we’re thinking of these, you know, sweeping legislations that regulate abortion.”

In an accompanying editorial, doctors at Indiana University Medical School wrote of the disproportionate burden that abortion restrictions place on minority families. The study found most families from these communities had to put children into foster care not because of neglect or abuse, but because they didn’t have adequate housing, they wrote.

“I thought it was really sad and devastating,” editorial co-author Dr. Tracey Wilkinson, an associate professor of pediatrics at Indiana, told CNN. “I think when people hear foster care, I think their head goes to a space of either neglect or abuse. And that’s not what’s happening here.”

“This highlights the contradiction in the anti-abortion position as it purports to protect women and families and at the same time, refuses to provide the support needed to safely raise their children,” the editorial stated. “It is a sad day when we are faced with statistical evidence that our national policy includes forcing women to carry pregnancies and deliver children, only to take them away due to an inability to afford housing.”

While there are loving foster families, children placed in foster care often fare worse when it comes to health, education, and income than those who come from stable homes, particularly children of color, the researchers noted.

“If you think about research that has been done on the effects of people that are in the foster care system itself, they’re obviously affected negatively in terms of their education, their health and their mental health,"  Adkins said. “So, it’s not just the burden that’s now placed on the foster care system that these abortion restrictions have had; it’s all these other effects, even after, that are now being impacted as well.”

More information

Visit the Administration for Children and Families for more on foster care.

SOURCE: JAMA Pediatrics, news release, Nov. 6, 2023; CNN

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