Why Teens Choose Abortion

How Parental Involvement, Access, and Educational Goals Play a Role

Teenage girl sitting on bed with pregnancy test
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Teens facing an unplanned pregnancy choose abortion for similar reasons as women in their twenties and thirties. Teens ask the same questions: Do I want this baby? Can I afford to raise a child? How will this impact my life? Am I ready to be a mother?

Coming to a Decision

A teen considering abortion is influenced by where she lives, her religious beliefs, her relationship with her parents, access to family planning services, and the behavior of her peer group. Her educational level and socioeconomic status also play a role.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, the reasons teens most often give for having an abortion are:

  • Not wanting their lives changed by the birth of a baby
  • Not being able to afford a baby
  • Not feeling mature or responsible enough to raise a child

Parental Involvement

Whether or not a teen opts for abortion often hinges on a parent's knowledge and/or participation in the decision-making.

Thirty-four states require some form of parental permission or notification for a minor to obtain an abortion. For teens whose parents are unaware that their daughter is sexually active, this is an additional obstacle that makes a difficult decision even more stressful.

The majority of teen abortions involve a parent in some way. 60% of minors who have abortions do so with the knowledge of at least one parent, and a large majority of parents support their daughter's choice.

Continuing Education...or Not

The teen who worries that having a baby will change her life has a good reason for concern. Most teen mothers lives are negatively impacted by the birth of a baby; their educational plans are interrupted, which subsequently limits their future earning potential and puts them at greater risk of raising their child in poverty.

In comparison, teens who choose abortion are more successful in school and are more likely to graduate and pursue higher education. They typically come from a higher socioeconomic family background than those who give birth and become teen mothers.

Even when socioeconomic factors are taken into consideration, pregnant teens are at a huge educational disadvantage. Teen mothers are significantly less likely to complete high school than their peers; only 40% of young women who give birth before age 18 earn a high school diploma as compared to other young women from similar socioeconomic situations who delay childbearing until age 20 or 21.

In the long run, the prospects are even grimmer. Less than 2% of teen mothers who give birth before age 18 go on to earn a college degree by the time they turn 30.

Access to Abortion Providers

'Choice' is not a choice when there's little or no access to abortion. For many teens in the U.S., obtaining an abortion involves driving out of town and even sometimes out of state. Limited access shuts the door on abortion for those without transportation or resources.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, in 2014 90% of counties in the United States had no abortion provider. Estimates of women who obtained abortions in 2005 indicate that 25% traveled at least 50 miles, and 8% traveled more than 100 miles. Eight states were served by fewer than five abortion providers. North Dakota has only one abortion provider.

Even when physical access is not an issue, the parental consent/parental notification laws which exist in 34 states in effect limit access for an underage teen unwilling to discuss the decision with a parent.

Teen Pregnancy Before Legalized Abortion

The fear and hesitancy teens express at the thought of discussing pregnancy with their parents is deeply rooted in our culture.

Past generations regarded teen pregnancy as something deeply shameful. Prior to the legalization of abortion, a pregnant girl or young woman was often sent by her family to a home for unwed mothers, a practice that began in the early 20th century and remained until the 1970s. To maintain the secret, friends, and acquaintances were told that the girl in question was 'staying with a relative.'

Teens who were afraid to tell their parents they were pregnant often grew desperate to end their pregnancies. Some attempted self-induced abortions with herbs or toxic substances or sharp implements; others sought out illegal 'back alley' abortionists who were rarely medical professionals. Many girls and young women died as a result of these unsafe abortion methods.

Lingering Shame

With the legalization of abortion with the Roe v. Wade decision in 1972, safe and legal medical means became available to most of the population, and the procedure could be done discreetly and quietly.

Although the shame of teen pregnancy lingered, abortion was a way for a teen or young woman to hide her sexual activity and pregnancy from her parents. High school-aged girls who 'kept their babies' were the subject of gossip and pity among students and parents.

Media Depictions of Teen Pregnancy and Abortion

Today, those views seem strange and outdated to the many teens who choose to become teen mothers. Mainstream media has come a long way in normalizing the idea of teen pregnancy. Films such as Juno and TV series such as The Secret Life of an American Teen feature pregnant teens as the heroines. Much rarer are depictions of teens choosing abortion—a taboo subject in the eyes of Hollywood.

Because teen pregnancy has become almost commonplace in many high schools, the pressure to 'keep it a secret' no longer exists as it did in past generations. More and more teens are choosing to give birth, and a type of reverse pressure now exists, with many teens believing that teen motherhood is a desirable situation. The very public pregnancies of famous teens such as Jamie Lynn Spears and Bristol Palin have added to the glamour of teen pregnancy.

Thus for some teens, the decision to have an abortion may be a choice that is criticized by peers who only see the excitement of being pregnant and having a baby.

Children of Teen Mothers

Teens who choose abortion because they recognize their own immaturity and inability to care for a baby are making a responsible decision; it may not be one that everyone agrees with, but it also cuts short a cycle that is on the rise in the U.S. -- children giving birth to children. More and more studies indicate that children born to teen mothers begin school with significant disadvantages in learning, do poorer in school and on standardized tests, and are much more likely to drop out of school than the children of women who've delayed childbearing until they reach their twenties.

Abortion remains a controversial topic, and a pregnant teen considering abortion often finds herself in the proverbial situation of being between a rock and a hard place. But when finances, life circumstances and rocky personal relationships prevent a teen mother from being able to raise her child in a loving, safe, and stable environment, terminating a pregnancy may be her only viable choice.


"In Brief: Facts on American Teens' Sexual and Reproductive Health." Guttmacher.org, September 2006.
Stanhope, Marcia and Jeanette Lancaster. "Foundations of Nursing in the Community: Community-oriented Practice." Elsevier Health Sciences, 2006.
"Why It Matters: Teen Pregnancy and Education."
The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, retrieved 19 May 2009.

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Lowen, Linda. "Why Teens Choose Abortion." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/why-teens-choose-abortion-3534251. Lowen, Linda. (2021, February 16). Why Teens Choose Abortion. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/why-teens-choose-abortion-3534251 Lowen, Linda. "Why Teens Choose Abortion." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/why-teens-choose-abortion-3534251 (accessed April 17, 2021).