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HMS Study Finds Abortion Restrictions May Increase Number of Children in Foster Case

Harvard Medical School is located at 25 Shattuck St. in the Longwood neighborhood of Boston.
Harvard Medical School is located at 25 Shattuck St. in the Longwood neighborhood of Boston. By Pei Chao Zhuo

A study conducted by affiliates from Harvard Medical School found a significant relationship between abortion restrictions and the number of children in the foster care system.

The study, which was co-authored by researchers at Harvard Medical School, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Bentley University, used past laws limiting access to abortions as a proxy for measuring the potential effects of the Supreme Court’s June 2022 decision to overturn the constitutional right to abortion established in Roe v. Wade.

The study found that racial and ethnic minority children were disproportionately affected by the restrictions and saw a rise in children entering the foster care system even greater than the overall change.

Savannah Adkins, a lecturer of economics at Bentley University, said in an interview that the researchers were inspired to delve deeper into the issue because of a lack of existing research.

“It seemed kind of a very obvious connection because it’s something that’s talked about a lot, but no papers had actually looked at statistically the link yet,” Adkins said.

The study also sheds light on the intersectionality of healthcare, race, and economics by demonstrating how policies in one area can have ripple effects in others.

Adkins’ research identifies four categories of Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers laws as responsible for disproportionately high rates of children entering foster care in impacted states. According to Adkins, TRAP laws are laws that impose “the same restrictions that ambulatory services might have but on abortion clinics.”

Adkins said examples of TRAP laws include requirements for abortion clinics to have transfer agreements with local hospitals and to be within a certain distance of a hospital.

“There’s been many, many, many studies that have looked at the link between different types of pre-Dobbs anti-abortion legislation,” Adkins said. “They really show that these laws do restrict access to abortion and cause there to be fewer abortions,” she added.

Adkins said the study found TRAP laws were associated with a “11 percent increase in entrants into foster care.” For Black Americans, TRAP laws were linked to a 13 percent increase, while for white Americans the increase is around 5 percent.

According to Adkins, the paper provides evidence that the link to race may be driven by income disparities.

The study’s findings highlight the need for a more holistic approach to policymaking that takes into account the various factors affecting individuals.

“It's not just the direct impact on the foster care system itself, but also on these children that are going to need more resources in terms of their health, mental health, and education,” Adkins said.

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