The Turnaway Play

The Turnaway Study is a landmark UCSF ten-year study of the consequences of receiving versus being denied a wanted abortion. In this new play, four actors play ten characters: the scientist who created the study, three women collecting the data, and real women they interview. The play weaves together scientific findings with an exploration of the human experience of unwanted pregnancy. It reveals how the laws governing reproductive rights affect the lives of women when they can choose to have an abortion – and the series of ramifications when the choice is no longer theirs. With honesty and humor, The Turnaway Play reaches beyond our polarizing political conversation to look deeply at one of the most important issues of our time.

The Turnaway Play was inspired by The Turnaway Study: Ten Years, a Thousand Women, and the Consequences of Having—Or Being Denied—An Abortion by Diana Greene Foster, PhD. Dr. Foster (sister of the playwright) is involved in the development of the play.
About The Turnaway Study

What happens when a woman seeking an abortion is turned away? To answer this question, Diana Greene Foster assembled a team of scientists—psychologists, epidemiologists, demographers, nurses, physicians, economists, sociologists, and public health researchers—to conduct a ten-year study. They followed a thousand women from across America, some of whom received abortions, some of whom were turned away. 

 

Judges, politicians, and pro-life advocates routinely defend their anti-abortion stance by claiming that abortion is physically risky and leads to depression and remorse. Dr. Foster’s data proves the opposite to be true. Foster documents the outcomes for women who received and were denied an abortion, analyzing the impact on their mental and physical health, their careers, their romantic relationships, and their other children, if they have them. The Turnaway Study offers the first thorough, data-driven examination of the negative consequences for women who cannot get abortions and provides incontrovertible evidence to refute the claim that abortion harms women.

The Turnaway Study book cover

History & Development

The Turnaway Play was a bit of an unintended child. My sister is Dr. Diana Greene Foster, lead researcher of The Turnaway Study. When Foster's study was turned into a book, she asked me to create a short theatrical treatment—she wanted people to hear from women who participated in the study, and she didn't want to do all the talking at her book signings. Unfortunately, the book was published in 2020, and there was no book tour. But the idea of a play had taken hold. As part of my research, I interviewed many of the women who worked for the study. Luisa, Serena, and Rhonda are fictional characters, but I drew on the stories I was told. Thank you to Claire, Mattie, Danielle, Ivette, Janine, Heather, and especially Selena, for sharing with me. The character Dr. Foster has a lot in common with my sister, but she wouldn't put things quite the way this character does. The other characters in the play are women who participated in the study, and the words they speak are their own.

I worked closely with my sister and with dramaturg/director Zoë Golub-Sass in the development of the play. The play received a workshop and public reading in May 2022. The amazing cast is below.

If you are interested in producing this play, please contact me!

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Actors from the first workshop and reading: Erica Steinhagen, Emily Mesa, Erin Lockett, Marissa Accordino
 

Characters

THE RESEARCHER

DR. FOSTER - Any race, woman in her 50s. Demographer and professor in the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences at the University of California, San Francisco. Dr. Foster is passionate, compelling, smart, irreverent, and not afraid to tell it like it is. Note: Dr. Foster is based on the real Dr. Diana Greene Foster, but she's not exactly like this!

 

THE INTERVIEWERS

LUISA - Mexican American woman from Texas, 22 years old. The newest member of the Turnaway Study team. She has just moved to the Oakland area from Texas with her boyfriend. She is a recent college grad with big dreams and a lot to learn. 

 

SERENA - Black woman from North Carolina, late 20s-early 30s. She has worked as an interviewer for the Turnaway study for three years. Prior to that she worked as a counselor at an abortion clinic. She cares deeply about women getting the support they need to make the decisions that are right for them.

 

RHONDA - White woman from San Francisco, mid-20s. She has been working at the Turnaway Study for two years. She is passionate about sexual and reproductive choice. And also just plain passionate—she has lots of romantic encounters and loves to share.

 

THE WOMEN OF THE STUDY

Real women who participated in the Turnaway Study. Their words are taken verbatim from study interviews

SOFIA - Hispanic woman from California, was 19 years old and 26 weeks pregnant when she was denied an abortion. Played by the actor who plays LUISA. 

 

MARTINA - Hispanic woman from Arizona, was 22 years old and 9 weeks pregnant when she had an abortion. Played by the actor who plays LUISA.

 

JADA - Black woman from Illinois, was 19 years old and 23 weeks pregnant when she had an abortion. Played by the actor who plays SERENA.

 

KIARA - Black woman from Kentucky, was 26 years old and 13 weeks pregnant when she received had an abortion. Played by the actor who plays SERENA. 

 

AMY - White woman from Texas, was 28 years old and 6 weeks pregnant when she had an abortion. Played by the actor who plays RHONDA.

 

BRENDA - White woman from New York, was 24 years old and 24 weeks pregnant when she was denied an abortion. Tough and unapologetic. Played by the actor who plays RHONDA.

 

Yvonne Fisher, LMHC

“I really loved the play. It's so vital and important. It's difficult to make scientific data theatrical but somehow, it really worked."

Peg J., abortion provider

"It was so good to witness the wonderful collaboration of theatre and research. We all thought it was very effective, evidenced by the conversation generated afterwards. Thank you for a great conversation, which is exactly what we need."

Alison Fromme, writer

“ Turning a scientific study into a play is such a creative challenge and you really pulled it off. I appreciated that the play reflected the real reasons women seek abortions and not the extreme cases. I learned a lot!”