Abortion: An Option
By Libby Atkins, 17, Staff Writer
Originally Published: January 25, 2018
Revised: January 3, 2019
“Abortion.” The word may seem daunting and clinical, but the reality is, abortion is a safe and legal option when it comes to an unplanned pregnancy. Some people may have mixed feelings about abortion for many reasons, including the stigma associated with it, but in places across the world where abortion is not legal, many women suffer from severe complications or even death as a result of unsafe abortion. We’re exposed to so many messages about abortion, but it’s important to set the record straight and destigmatize this option for teens.
To get more information, I spoke with a patient advocate who counsels those facing an unplanned pregnancy, including teens, to find out what they typically learn and don’t learn about these options. I also tried to find a teen who had had an abortion and was willing to talk about their experience but was unable to. This speaks to the stigma about abortion, as well as the fact that abortion rates among teens are low. According to the Guttmacher Institute, in the U.S., 59 percent of women who have abortions are already mothers, and by age 20 less than five percent of young women will have had an abortion! Above all, it’s important to know about choices and get support when needed so that you can make decisions that are right for you.
Parental consent laws, along with inaccessibility, can lead to teens feeling trapped when faced with an unplanned pregnancy.
Seeking Reliable Information
When facing an unplanned pregnancy, it’s essential to have access to information about options. Unfortunately, teens don’t always have all the information they need, and they’re often not getting it via sex education at school. I was curious to hear directly from teens about whether they think they’re getting enough information about pregnancy options. Some teenagers are taught very little (if anything) about abortion or other options.
Sixteen-year-old Naomi of Fort Myers, FL, says, “At school, we are not really taught what to do. To find out…the internet is the best source, but even that’s not always reliable.” Victoria, 19, of Voorhees, NJ, was also not informed of any options when dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. “Sex ed in school only focuses on the idea of abstinence and that’s just not effective at all,” she says. “The way my mom saw things was that it was better to inform me of potential outcomes for unplanned pregnancy than to just pretend that saying ‘Don’t have sex’ is going to prevent it from happening.” Ashley, 18, from Marlton, NJ, shares that in her ninth grade sex ed class, abortion was not mentioned at all. But in her senior year of high school, her health teacher began a brief discussion by saying that “she didn’t want to discuss abortion, but had to.” Ashley continues, “The information she did give us was biased and unhelpful. She didn’t (talk about) the legality of abortion or reasons why someone may have one but rather told us that the baby felt pain and suggested that abortion was immoral and wrong. Her job was to inform us about legal and safe options regarding pregnancy, and she was unable to provide us with accurate and important information.”
After hearing about the lack of information teenagers have when it comes to finding accurate information about pregnancy options—specifically abortion, I decided to do some research.
Teenagers have many misconceptions about what abortion really is: a medical procedure that ends a pregnancy. The overwhelming majority (89 percent) of abortions occur in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy with two-thirds of all abortions happening in the first eight weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
There are two types of abortion: medical and surgical. Medical abortions can be done during the first ten weeks of a pregnancy. During a medical abortion the woman is given two medications, the first to stop producing a hormone called progesterone. This stops her body’s ability to sustain the pregnancy. The second medicine causes the uterine muscles to contract and empty the uterus.
Surgical abortions are also called “in-clinic abortions.” To be clear, while “surgical” sounds invasive, surgical abortions are nothing like a C-section or procedures that people think of as surgery. There is no “cutting open” the patient. The woman’s cervix is dilated, and the contents of the uterus are removed via suction. The actual procedure takes five to fifteen minutes. (This doesn’t include time for paperwork, an exam and spending up to an hour in the recovery room.) It’s important that abortion stays legal and accessible. It’s also important to understand that making abortion illegal will not decrease the number of abortions; it will only increase the number of unsafe abortions.
When I speak with Roxanne Sutocky, a patient advocate at the Cherry Hill Women’s Center in New Jersey, she explains that the clinic provides “pregnancy testing, ultrasound, options counseling and abortion care.” Roxanne lists “patient education, providing emotional support and establishing consent” among her tasks. She says, “I seek to empower our patients to exercise their autonomy and make informed decisions free of judgment in a supportive environment.” It’s great for patients—teens and otherwise—to be able to get the right information from professionals like Roxanne so that they can make a healthy and well-informed decision about their bodies. “Ultimately,” Roxanne says, “it is the patient that is the expert in their own life and is the best suited to decide what to do when experiencing an unplanned pregnancy.”
She stresses how each patient she meets has their own story and needs and how it’s important for her to pay attention to that. She aims to help provide patients with information so that they can make a decision that’s right for them.
When asked about what it’s like to work with teens, Roxanne says it’s much like working with other age groups. However, she mentioned that teens often have more factors influencing their decision, like “other people around them [who] feel strongly about their decisions or seek to make their decisions for them, citing that they know best.” This can include not only family members but also partners. Ultimately, it is up to the person who is pregnant to decide what happens. Roxanne shares that teens who don’t have supportive families or access to financial resources or comprehensive sex education are in particular need of support for either continuing or terminating a pregnancy. Giving teens a vote of confidence, she says, “I find that teen patients, when provided support and information, are more than capable of autonomous decision-making.” Going through this alone is really difficult, so having educated and kind experts by your side can be incredibly helpful.
Finally, I asked Roxanne why she thinks access to abortion is important. “Comprehensive health care is a human right and abortion care is health care,” she says. “I believe that people deserve to choose when, where and with whom they will have children and to exercise their autonomy safely and with dignity.”
I am glad we have people like Roxanne working in positions to help. It’s important to know that you’re not alone and that there are ways to manage a tough situation and make a choice that’s good for you.
Not Everyone Has a Choice
Sadly, not all teens do have a choice, at least not one without complications. Recently, due to new laws in many states, a lot of public clinics that provided abortion and counseling services have been closed, and teens seeking help are unable to find it.
Sam, 15, of Frisco, TX, speaks about how the free clinics in his state have lost funding: “Now that clinics have been shut down, we’re afraid to go to our parents if an abortion is needed because that means driving three hours to the closest one. A lot of us feel like, because we can’t get to the clinics, we don’t have the option or a choice anymore.”
Additionally, Texas is one of many states that require parental consent or notification prior to having an abortion. Thirty-seven states require some type of parental involvement when it comes to teens’ decisions about abortion. Parental consent laws, along with inaccessibility, can lead to teens feeling trapped when faced with an unplanned pregnancy.
A Legal Option
While abortion isn’t accessible to many people, we are still very fortunate to live in a country where we have the choice of legal and safe abortion. But choices can be overwhelming so it’s important to have the facts when it comes to your options!
I think being given options and resources as a teen is phenomenal. I would feel scared if I wasn’t able to make choices about my own body. Thankfully, I have support, health care and education to guide me through any questions I have or situations I could be in. Even if I am never in need of an abortion or pregnancy counseling, just knowing these resources are accessible is super comforting.
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