Sarah C.M. Roberts

Associate Professor, Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH), Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences, University of California, San Francisco

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About Sarah

Roberts studies the ways that policies and the health care system punish, rather than support, vulnerable pregnant women, including pregnant women using alcohol and drugs and pregnant women considering abortion. Her research falls into two categories. First, she conducts research about state-level policies related to abortion and state-level policies targeting alcohol and drug use during pregnancy. Second, she conducts research to inform the development of genuine public health approaches to abortion, including generating the evidence-base to inform facility standards for abortion facilities and research to inform how health departments should engage with abortion.

As part of her work related to pregnant women's alcohol and drug use, Roberts has served as an advisor to multiple local health departments, and served on advisory committees for the March of Dimes and CA ACOG, the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, as well as SAMHSA. As part of her research about abortion, she has served on advisory committees for projects focusing on insurance coverage for abortion and on later abortion.


What Happened to Women's Health When the State of Ohio Forced the Use of Outdated Abortion Procedures?

  • Alice Cartwright
  • Sarah C.M. Roberts

Women's Experience with a 72-Hour Waiting Period for Abortion

  • Sarah C.M. Roberts

In the News

Research discussed by Annalisa Merelli, in "A New Study Says the CDC Inflated Women’s Risk of Alcohol-Exposed Pregnancies," Quartz, January 16, 2019.
Interviewed in "How Will New Arizona Abortion Law Affect Public Health Officials?," KJZZ's The Show, January 8, 2019.
Opinion: "We Already Know What America Would Look Like if Roe is Overturned," Sarah C.M. Roberts, Sacramento Bee, October 2, 2018.
Research discussed by Ann Pietrangelo, in "Abortions Are Still Safe Even Outside of Surgery Centers," Healthline, July 10, 2018.
Opinion: "Our Research on Abortion Laws Shows They are Not Based on Facts and Can Even Harm Women," Sarah C.M. Roberts, USA Today, June 26, 2018.
Quoted by Molly Redden in "The War on Women is over and Women Lost," Mother Jones, October 2015.
Quoted by Lisa Hagen in "Study: GA Abortion Law Impacts Women beyond the Southeast," Public Broadcasting Atlanta, June 22, 2015.
Opinion: "We Need to Stop Punishing Women for Seeking Health Care," Sarah C.M. Roberts, RH Reality Check, October 13, 2014.
Quoted by Kate Pickert in "What Missouri’s New Abortion Law Means for Women," Time, September 11, 2014.
Opinion: "The Consequences of Alcohol and Pregnancy Recommendations," Sarah C.M. Roberts (with Lyndsay Ammon Avalos), OUP Blog, October 11, 2012.


"Association of Facility Type with Procedural-Related Morbidities and Adverse Events among Patients Undergoing Induced Abortions" (with Ushma Upadhyay, Guodong Liu, Jennifer Kerns, Djibril Ba, Nancy Beam, and and Douglas Leslie). JAMA 319, no. 24 (2018): 2497-2506.

Examines whether abortion-related complications differ between abortions provided in Ambulatory Surgery Centers (ASCs) and abortions provided in office-based settings. Finds no difference in complications between ASCs and office-based settings, including for second trimester and later abortions.

"Associations between State‐Level Policies Regarding Alcohol Use among Pregnant Women, Adverse Birth Outcomes, and Prenatal Care Utilization: Results from 1972 to 2013 Vital Statistics" (with Meenakshi S. Subbaraman, Sue Thomas, Ryan Treffers, Kevin Delucchi, William C. Kerr, and and Priscilla Martinez). Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research (2018).

Examines the impact of state-level policies targeting alcohol use during pregnancy. Finds that, at best, state alcohol/pregnancy policies have no impact on adverse birth outcomes or prenatal care utilization, and, at worst, actually lead to increases in low birthweight and preterm birth and decreases in prenatal care utilization.

"Utah’s 72-Hour Waiting Period for Abortion: Experiences among a Clinic-Based Sample of Women" (with David Turok, Elise Belusa, Sarah Combellick, and Ushma Upadhyay). Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health (2016).

Examines women’s experiences with Utah’s 72-hour waiting period and two-visit requirement for abortion, which was the first 72-hour waiting period law to go into effect in the U.S. Overall, Utah’s 72-hour waiting period and two-visit requirement did not prevent women who presented for information visits from having abortions, but did burden women with financial costs, logistical hassles and extended periods of dwelling on decisions they had already made. They also led some women to worry that they may not be able to have the type of abortion they preferred and pushed at least one women beyond her facility’s gestational limit for providing abortion care. The two-visit requirement increased the cost of the abortion by 10% and the 72-hour wait was actually an 8-day wait in practice.

"Alcohol, Tobacco, and Drug Use as Reasons for Abortion" (with Lyndsay Ammon Avalos, Danielle Sinkford, and Diana Greene Foster). Alcohol and Alcoholism 47, no. 6 (2012): 640-648.

Using data from the UCSF Turnaway Study (n=956 women seeking abortion in the United States), we found that nearly 5% reported alcohol, tobacco, or drug use as a reason for deciding to have an abortion. Women reporting alcohol as a reason drank at levels exceeding a low threshold and did not appear to be terminating otherwise wanted pregnancies. None of the women reporting drug use as a reason reported fear of punishment as a reason for abortion. Ninety-eight percent of women reporting alcohol, tobacco, or drugs as a reason had unintended pregnancies. Findings are inconsistent with hypotheses that recommendations for abstinence from alcohol during pregnancy and punitive policies relating to drug use lead women using low levels of alcohol or using drugs to terminate otherwise wanted pregnancies.

"Complex Calculations: How Drug Use During Pregnancy Becomes a Barrier to Prenatal Care" (with Cheri Pies). Maternal and Child Health Journal 15, no. 3 (2011): 333-341.

Using qualitative data collected from pregnant and parenting women using alcohol and/or drugs in a California county, finds that women using drugs attended and avoided prenatal care for reasons not connected to their drug use: concern for the health of their baby, social support, and extrinsic barriers such as health insurance and transportation. Also finds that drug use itself was a barrier for a few women. In addition to drug use, women experienced multiple simultaneous risk factors. Both the drug use and the multiple simultaneous risk factors made resolving extrinsic barriers more difficult. Women also feared the effects of drug use on their baby's health and feared being reported to Child Protective Services, each of which influenced prenatal care use.