Over the next year, at least 7,000 U.S. teenagers will likely be forced into parenthood because they were not able to obtain a desired legal abortion.
The first nationwide count of abortions since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, #WeCount, documents an estimated 10,000 fewer abortions in just the first two months after the ruling. That number is expected to rise to at least 60,000 in the year following the ruling. But while the #WeCount data are an important way to track the impact of new abortion bans, these overall national estimates do not measure the age of abortion patients and therefore camouflage the unique experiences of teenagers. In fact, teens are expected to be especially harmed by state abortion bans, given the many obstacles they will face in trying to access care.
Drawing on these findings and on previous age patterns of abortion, we estimate that over the next year, at least 7,000 U.S. teenagers will likely be forced into parenthood because they were not able to obtain a desired legal abortion following the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Not only is this a fundamental betrayal of young people and their ability to choose their own futures, it’s a social, economic and public health emergency with long-term repercussions.
For a teen, being denied an abortion isn’t just a bump in the road; it forces them onto a lifelong path they didn’t choose. Pregnant people who are denied an abortion are more likely to go on to live in poverty with their children and struggle to pay for basic expenses like food and housing.
Pregnancy and childbirth are more dangerous than abortion, with higher rates of preeclampsia and pre-term delivery, particularly among younger adolescents. Children of teenage mothers are more likely to be born prematurely or with low birth weight and have long-term health needs, which compound the stress and economic struggles teen parents already face.
We can expect that young people of color and those from low-income backgrounds will be further overrepresented among those who cannot obtain an abortion, increasing existing inequalities these youth already face.
The few existing supports for young parents are already overtaxed and will not be able to absorb and meet the needs of thousands of teens who did not intend to become parents and their children.
Unintended motherhood can push a teen out of school and shatter plans for the future. The U.S. system of public supports for families is fragmented and particularly unsupportive in states with abortion bans, and not well-designed to meet the needs of young parents. Without needed support, young parents often struggle to graduate from high school and enter the workforce early while facing challenges in finding affordable childcare. The few existing supports for young parents are already overtaxed and will not be able to absorb and meet the needs of thousands of teens who did not intend to become parents and their children. The repercussions of these abortion bans on teens’ lives will reverberate across generations.
While the disturbing experience of a 10-year-old rape victim blocked from obtaining an abortion in Ohio is worthy of outrage and anger, this same outrage and anger should be extended to the experiences of other teens blocked from getting an abortion. It is important to remember the teen babysitter from down the street, the community college student, the 18- or 19-year-old with their first full time job, who will need abortions they cannot legally obtain in their state. Abortion restrictions are a fundamental loss of bodily autonomy for young people of all ages and backgrounds, and all are equally deserving of abortion access.
While the #WeCount numbers indicate that overall travel to states where abortion is legal has helped to cushion the impact of new abortion bans, travel for teens is a heightened challenge and adolescents face more barriers to abortion access than adults do at every step of the way. With 13 states concentrated in the South and Midwest banning abortion since Dobbs, there are large portions of the country where the nearest abortion would require crossing multiple state lines. Despite the best efforts of advocates and grassroots organizations to support teens, overcoming these barriers to care can be insurmountable for teens and young adults.
#WeCount is an important first step in documenting the impacts of the Dobbs decision and future data collection efforts should capture more important details, including the age and race/ethnicity, of abortion patients. Failing to document specific and disproportionate impacts of abortion restrictions on young people and people of color undermines the harm abortion restrictions cause and strips advocates of our power to combat them. Every teen’s future matters and every teen—whether one or 7,000—should count in the fight for reproductive freedom, abortion access and support for pregnant and parenting teens
Editor’s note: At-home abortions via medication abortion are legal, safe and available in all 50 states. The organization Plan C has a comprehensive guide to finding abortion pills on their website, which is continually updated and has all the latest information on where to find abortion pills from anywhere in the U.S.
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