Every year, many teens are subjected to unwanted pregnancies. While there are multiple reasons why this happens, one thing has remained a sad truth for them: getting a safe abortion at such a young age is almost impossible. Up until now, many countries, particularly the most conservative ones, see abortion as an immoral and sinful act. This prevents teens who get pregnant early to make decisions regarding their own bodies.
Teens facing an unplanned pregnancy often ask the same questions as women in their 20s and 30s: “Do I want this baby? Can I afford to raise a child? Am I ready?” There are several reasons why young people choose to not pursue their pregnancy, which is mostly influenced by their culture, religious beliefs, relationship with parents, socioeconomic status, and others. A study by the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization based in the United States that works to study, educate, and advance sexual and reproductive health and rights, showed that some of the reasons why teens opt for abortion are not wanting their lives changed by the birth of a baby, not being able to afford a baby, and not feeling mature or responsible enough to raise a child.
Teen Abortion in Numbers
The decision of choosing abortion over raising a child does not lie in teens. They are not only bound by laws but also societal expectations, making them believe that going through an abortion will be their worst decision. For instance, in the US, getting an abortion involves driving out of town and even sometimes out of state. Reports showed that 90% of states in the country in 2014 had no abortion provider. In 2005, estimates of women who obtained abortions indicated that 25% traveled at least 50 miles to get one while 8% traveled more than 100 miles.
Child Trends, a leading research organization focused exclusively on improving the lives of children and youth, reported that teen abortion rates increased during the 1970s with 24% of the total number of pregnant young women. The rate stabilized during the 1980s at 40% and then decreased steadily to about 24% by 2013. Since the early 1990s, abortion rates for non-Hispanic Whites, Blacks, and Hispanic females have significantly decreased. It was reported that abortion rates have declined by 77% among non-Hispanic White teens, 74% among Hispanic teens, and 68% percent among Black teens.
Most of these abortions were the result of unintended pregnancies. From 2010 to 2014, the estimated pregnancy rates in developed and developing regions are 45 and 65 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44, respectively. Current rates are highest in Africa with 89 per 1,000 and Latin America and the Caribbean with 96 per 1,000. Another report by the Guttmacher Institute found that an estimated 36 abortions occur each year per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 in developing regions between 2010 and 2014—higher than in developed regions with 27 abortion incidents.
Teen Girls Need Access to Safe and Legal Abortion
Teenage pregnancy alone is extremely risky. Previous reports showed that 40% to 60% of teenage mothers are more likely to die in childbirth because their bodies are not yet mature enough to carry a child. Their babies are 50% more likely to be stillborn or to die shortly after birth compared to babies born to mothers in their 20s. In fact, the World Health Organization reported that complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for girls and young women 15 to 19 years old. In many cases, young mothers are forced to marry at an early age or to drop out of school because of their condition.
"Abortions take place around the world, no matter the legal setting. The provision of abortion is safest where it has long been legal. Nonetheless, some countries with broadly liberal laws have increasingly added restrictions that chip away at access to legal procedures; these include the United States and several countries in the former Soviet Bloc or zone of influence,” a study by Guttmacher Institute said.
Pregnant teens often face a difficult situation when trying to get an abortion. According to Vice, a Canadian-American print magazine focused on lifestyle, arts, culture, and news/politics, 37 states in the US require an underage person seeking an abortion without their guardians' approval to go to court, where a judge may refuse their case based on personal belief. A study published in the American Journal of Public Health reported that up to 13% of all teens seeking to get legal approval for an abortion without their parent’s involvement or consent, also known as judicial bypass, are getting denied by judges in Texas. This is mainly because of the judges’ personal and political opinions and not the actual merits of the cases.
The researchers stated that judicial bypass “exists to assure that a parent cannot veto a teenager's abortion decision. But instead, it is just giving that veto power to a judge.” However, the judicial bypass is not that effective. A 2018 report showed that the process itself is humiliating and shame-inducing. In some cases, the judges will assign pastors or deacons to either “preach” about the evils of abortion or “guide” the pregnant minors on their decision to terminate the pregnancy.
Of all abortions, an estimated 55% are safe, 31% are less safe, and 14% are least safe. Regions that have more restrictive laws have higher unsafe abortions—ranging from less than 1% in the least-restrictive countries to 31% in the most restrictive countries. According to NBC News, an online site that covers breaking news, videos, and the latest top stories in world news, business, politics, health, and pop culture, a 2012 study showed that the number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions decreased by 62% and 78%, respectively, when women are given access to contraceptives and safe abortion.
“Improved contraceptive use, and in turn, declines in unintended pregnancy rate, are the likely driver behind the worldwide decline in abortion rates,” Susheela Singh, vice president for international research at the Guttmacher Institute, said.
Thus, having safe access to abortion for girls who do not want to continue their pregnancy is important. The WHO also reported that nearly four million adolescents aged 15 to 19 have unsafe abortions each year. This is because their governments are preventing them to get one. According to the Human Rights Watch, an international non-governmental organization, girls facing an unwanted pregnancy will have a chance to consider her options and decide if she’s ready to become a mother if governments guaranteed access to safe, legal abortion.
Abortion, in general, remains a contentious subject in several countries unless one very important question is resolved once and for all: When does human life start?