|Adolescents and Abortion|
Restricting access puts young women’s health and lives at risk
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In the United States, teenage women accounted for less than 17 percent of all abortions performed during 2007.  Driven by ideology rather than facts or logic, U.S. conservatives have increased their efforts to restrict access to legal abortion, first for adolescents, but also for adult women in the United States and in the Global South. Data have clearly shown that making abortion illegal has not prevented women, of any age, from having or attempting an abortion. Instead worldwide, making abortion illegal has each year cost the lives of 65,000 to 70,000 women and caused another five million to suffer temporary or permanent disability. 
In 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) asserted that abortion induced by a skilled provider in situations where it is legal is one of the safest procedures in contemporary medical practice … In the USA, for example, the death rate from induced abortion is now 0.6 per 100,000 procedures, making it as safe as an injection of penicillin.  At the same time, WHO described unsafe abortion as characterized by the inadequacy of the provider’s skills and use of hazardous techniques and unsanitary facilities … The risk of death following unsafe abortion can be several hundred times higher (than that of legal abortion). 
Does Abortion Occur More Frequently among Adults or Teens?
What Characterizes Safe and Unsafe Abortion?
Why Do Women Seek Abortion?
These reasons, plus issues of stigma, being forced out of school, and actual physical danger from family or community also have applied to women in developing countries. [2,4]
Are Many Pregnancies Unintended?
Nearly half of all pregnancies among American women are unintended. About four in ten of these unintended pregnancies end in abortion. 
At the same time, up to 85 percent of pregnancies among teenage women are unintended while less than one-third (29 percent) end in abortion. [1,3,8,9]
Fifty-four percent of U.S. women who had an abortion used a contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant. A significant proportion of these women (76 to 49 percent, depending on the method) reported using the method inconsistently or incorrectly. 
According to the WHO, the most common reason for unintended pregnancy among women in the developing world was lack of access to modern methods of contraception. Many married women in developing countries have lacked access to the contraceptive methods of their choice, especially to highly effective methods. The situation has been even more difficult for unmarried women, particularly adolescents, who were frequently excluded from contraceptive counseling and services. 
Where women of reproductive age have had access only to less effective methods of contraception (such as barrier methods and withdrawal), the numbers of unintended pregnancies rose and abortions increased. 
Among typical users, no method of contraception, including abstinence, has ever been 100 percent effective. Experts estimated that, throughout the world each year, 27 million unintended pregnancies occurred as a result of incorrect or inconsistent use of a method.  Even where contraceptives were used correctly and consistently, women worldwide experienced some six million unintended pregnancies each year.  As for abstinence, often pushed by conservatives as the proper and only way to prevent unintended pregnancy among teens and young adults, experts estimated that it had a “very high failure rate” because those who relied on abstinence often were inconsistent in being abstinent and were less likely than their peers to use contraception. 
What Can Be Done to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy and Abortion?
WHO, United Nations Development Programme, and sexual and reproductive health experts in the United States and abroad unanimously recommend certain actions to reduce the incidence of unintended pregnancy and abortion.
1. Improve women’s access to contraceptive information and counseling and to a full range of contraceptive methods. Ensure that these services are available to all women, regardless of their age, marital status, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or number of existing children. Remember that the goal is to reduce unintended, mistimed, and unwanted pregnancies and to reduce the incidence of abortion.
2. Eliminate laws and policies that discourage or deter women of any age or condition from seeking contraceptive and family planning services. Such policies include, but are not limited to, those that:
Remember that the goal is to reduce unintended pregnancy and the need for abortion. In addition, mandating parental involvement or consent too often causes teens to delay an abortion beyond the safest period (the first eight weeks of gestation). Thus, such policies can increase teens’ risk of death or injury from abortion.
3. Legalize abortion and make services widely available. Remember that making abortion illegal does not prevent abortion. It only prevents safe abortion. Unsafe abortion costs the lives of up to 75,000 women and damages the health of millions of women every year. In addition, many of these women already have children who will suffer significantly after the death or injury of their mother.
4. Include in family planning services screening for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) as well as other conditions, like high blood pressure, that can negatively affect a pregnancy. Remember that the goal is to encourage healthy pregnancies and healthy mothers giving birth to healthy babies and to reduce the need for abortion.
5. Fund programs that offer comprehensive sexual health information and services, including abortion. Excellent programs can greatly reduce the need for abortion by assisting women to use their choice of contraception consistently and effectively. Nevertheless, rape, war, illness, and unforeseen problems and tragedies will always mean that women need access to safe and legal abortion services.
6. Provide all teens and young adults with accurate, age-appropriate sexual health education, including accurate information about contraceptives, STIs, pregnancy and parenting. Good education will best equip youth to make appropriate choices about delaying the initiation of sex and about protecting themselves and their partners when they choose to have sex.
Written by Sue Alford, MLS