Post-Roe Changes in Adolescent Care
A 2022 article in Ms. Magazine conjectures 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.” According to the CDC, 75% of teenage pregnancies are unintended. Unintended pregnancy presents greater health and socioeconomic risks for teenagers as opposed to adults. And yet, teens are expected to be disproportionately impacted by abortion bans.
“Abortion has always been a sticky situation for teens,” says Dr. Holmes. “But now, with Roe being overturned, it will be even more challenging for them to get care.” Dr. Holmes explains that with 20 week bans, adolescents are more likely to miss their window where they could access safe and legal abortions. “Adolescents notoriously show up later for their first prenatal visit than adults do,” Holmes says. “They notoriously figure out they’re pregnant later than most people who are trying to conceive. They’re not looking out for this.”
Further, if adolescents miss their window in a state with a 20 week ban, it’s harder for them to travel for care. Geographically, South Carolina is bordered by states with similarly restrictive or more restrictive abortion laws. A South Carolinian unable to access care in their state would likely need to travel to Virginia, Maryland, or Illinois for an abortion, prohibitively long distances for people already facing barriers due to race, income, gender identity, or age. This kind of geographical isolation holds true in many states with restrictive abortion laws, such as Louisiana and Mississippi.
Dr. Trish Hutchison provides insight based on her 30 years of clinical experience that has focused on adolescents. . Alongside her work with Girlology, Dr. Hutchison continues to see patients as a Campus Physician at the Student Health Center at the College of Charleston, giving her a unique perspective on the needs of college-aged women. She is an expert on adolescent development, teen sexuality, and parenting.
“Think about a teenager,” says Dr. Hutchison. “This is what’s really sad. A teenager who thinks they’re pregnant is probably freaked out, and now they have to navigate the healthcare system and potentially plan interstate travel. It involves them picking up the phone or going online, trying to make an appointment, navigating medical offices in other states, and then they have to find a means of transport, and they have to have funds.” She continues, “All of this causes a delay in their care.”
“Carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term for a teen has lifelong complications,” Dr. Hutchison explains. “It’s not only health concerns for mom during a teenage pregnancy, but also for the infant. And then there’s the added mental health challenges of them feeling stuck, trapped or hopeless if they don’t have the choice to terminate a pregnancy.” All of these factors have led Drs. Holmes and Hutchison to practice with an ethos of deeply prioritizing patient education.
Beyond medical implications, the overturning of Roe has emotional and psychological consequences for teens. “Puberty and adolescence is a time when kids are already full of anxiety,” says Dr. Holmes. “And the biggest source of that anxiety starts with their changing bodies. They’re brain is also going through a lot of changes. So when you add something like this on top of what is already a stressful time of life, it’s bound to have impact.”