‘Cause it’s like, ‘man what are they going to think’ and ‘are they going to hate me for this?’ That is what goes through your mind.
When a young woman seeks to terminate a pregnancy, how does she decide whether to talk to a parent? A recent study from the Section of Family Planning and Contraceptive Research at the University of Chicago found that pregnant teens will turn to parents and adults who are engaged in their lives and who will offer support, regardless of her decision. Young women will avoid talking with parents who are less involved or may try to prevent them from seeking care.
The study, recently published online ahead of print in the American Journal of Public Health, explored the factors young women under age 18 consider when deciding to involve a parent. Researchers conducted interviews with 30 minors seeking abortion in Illinois, prior to implementation of a parental notice law in 2013. Currently, there are 38 states with laws requiring a parent provide consent or receive notification before a minor can access abortion.
Image courtesy of the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health (icah.org)
“There’s a commonly accepted idea that teens will try to hide their pregnancy or abortion decision. However, pregnant young women actually do turn to parents in the majority of cases. In our study, 70% of the young women involved a parent or guardian. They thought carefully about which parents and adults in their lives they could turn to for help in making their decision,” said Lee Hasselbacher, policy researcher at the Section of Family Planning.
While each young woman’s family circumstance was different, there were several common motivations for involving a parent. Factors in favor included close and supportive relationships, need for help with logistics like travel or payment, or experiences that made discovery of the pregnancy seem inevitable.
I mean, I wouldn’t normally tell my dad but it came to a point where I needed another $50 for the abortion to be done and so I relied on daddy.
Minors expressed a range of motivations for not telling a parent about their abortion as well. Some teens worried that if their parent learned of their decision, it would dramatically change their relationship or feared it would even lead to anger or harm. Young women also discussed the lack of a relationship or presence as a reason they did not want to involve a parent.
To me that [disclosing pregnancy and abortion] would start a whole lot of drama and right now um, our relationship is like- is kind of on good terms but it’s not so for me telling her this um, I think it like would go back down the drain.
One of the strongest findings was that among those young women who did not involve either parent, most were concerned that one or both parents would directly interfere with their decision to get an abortion.
She just told me, like, it’s not right… and she told me like, if I did get pregnant, like, she told me she wouldn’t let me have one. She said it’s my responsibility.
“This study reveals the complicated lives of pregnant young women and suggests that young women, not policymakers, are the ones best able to identify those people in their lives who can help them deal with a pregnancy. This study reinforces the need to listen to these young women and support policies that encourage family communication long before a pregnancy or abortion decision,” said Dr. Melissa Gilliam, Chief of the Section of Family Planning and Contraceptive Research and author on the study.
Hasselbacher LA, Dekleva A, Tristan S, Gilliam ML. Factors Influencing Parental Involvement Among Minors Seeking an Abortion: A Qualitative Study. Am J Public Health. Published online ahead of print September 11, 2014: e1-e5. Doi:10.2105/AJPH.2014.302116.