What It Means for Teens and Parents

Key Takeaways

  • On May 2, a leaked Supreme Court ruling raised speculation that Roe v. Wade, which protects the right to legal abortion, could be overturned.
  • On June 24, the Supreme Court officially passed down a ruling overturning Roe v. Wade and eliminating the constitutional right to an abortion.
  • Overturning Roe v. Wade could decrease access to safe abortions for teens, impacting their health, mental health, and future opportunities in life.

On May 2, 2022, Politico shared a document that appeared to be a draft of a Supreme Court majority opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade, the pivotal case which guaranteed the legal right to an abortion. The following day, the Supreme Court verified the authenticity of this document.

UPDATE, June 24

On June 24, the Supreme Court passed down its official ruling overturning Roe v. Wade and eliminating the constitutional right to abortion in the United States. The decision was 6-3, with Justice Samuel Alito writing for the majority. This ruling also overturns Casey v. Planned Parenthood, another landmark abortion ruling. The Supreme Court instead gives states the powers to set their own abortion laws.

With the ruling, many people are wondering what this might mean—for society and for them personally. If you are the parent of a teenager, you likely have specific questions about what such a ruling would mean for your teen’s access to safe and reliable abortion services.

We reached out to experts to help us understand how the overturning of Roe v. Wade might affect teens and their parents.

AAP Stance on Supreme Court Decision

On June 24, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reaffirmed its commitment to adolescents’ reproductive health care, including abortion. The AAP has published two statements outlining its position. “Everyone – including teenagers — deserves the right to confidential medical care that best supports their own needs and is informed by their physician’s expertise,” said Elise D. Berlan, MD, MPH, FAAP, co-author of both policy statements, written by the AAP Committee on Adolescence. The AAP supports counseling on all pregnancy options including raising the child, adoption, or ending the pregnancy.

How Overturning Roe v. Wade Could Impact Teens

With the overturning of Roe v. Wade, states will have the option to restrict or criminalize abortion, as well as decide what specific restrictions will be put in place. “When this happens, 26 states are set to ban abortion based on trigger laws that say once Roe v. Wade is no longer in effect, abortion will be outlawed in their states,” says Jennifer Lincoln, MD, an OB/GYN and author of Let’s Talk About Down There.

Rev. Katey Zeh, an ordained Baptist minister, CEO of the nonprofit: Religious Coalition of Reproductive Choice, and author of two books on reproductive rights, shared what she imagines will happen for teens who live in states where abortion becomes illegal.

“For teens in those states who need abortion care, it will involve making appointments in other states where abortion is legal, requiring them to travel long distances and potentially causing a delay in their care,” she says. Teens who don’t have access to transportation or sufficient funds will find it extremely difficult to access care, Rev. Zeh adds.

What About Parental Permission or Consent?

Even now, some states require anyone under the age of 18 to get parental permission to receive abortion care, which can be a roadblock for many teens. “This poses a difficult barrier for teens who do not feel safe confiding in their parents or who otherwise simply cannot obtain parental consent,” says Rev. Zeh.

It’s unclear what will happen in terms of parental consent if Roe v. Wade is overturned. In states where abortion becomes illegal, parental consent will be a moot point. Rev. Zeh says that it’s likely that teens traveling to other states for abortion will have the added burden of having to provide parental consent for services.

“It’s possible that providers receiving patients from outside their state would require teens to get parental consent if their state has laws that require parental consent and/or notification,” she speculated.

What About Victims of Sexual Abuse or Assault?

Once the federal right to legal abortion is gone, states will have the option to make it illegal, including in cases of incest, sexual assault, or rape. It’s not clear how different states will make these decisions. But as Dr. Lincoln points out, several states that have already enacted laws restricting abortion access have not made exceptions for incest, assault, or rape. Examples include Arizona, Florida, and Texas.

Medical, Emotional, and Social Implications

The implications of limiting or eliminating access to abortion for teenagers are vast. Teens are an especially vulnerable population because they may not understand what is happening to their bodies during pregnancy and they may not have access to safe sex information, says Dr. Lincoln.

“These anti-abortion laws will hit them harder as it’s more likely that adolescent pregnancies will be recognized later in teens whose periods may be irregular, or who may not realize they could be pregnant,” she explains.

Carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term for a teen can have lifelong implications. Research has shown that teen parents are more likely to experience financial problems, health problems, and mental health challenges.

There is also the additional concern that teens without abortion access will turn to unsafe methods of terminating a pregnancy, says Naiylah Warren, LMFT, a therapist and clinical content manager at Real. “Teens represent a population of folks that due to their age may not have access to money, resources or support, thus leading them to have to make decisions that compromise their physical safety,” says Warren.

Finally, the mental health impacts of teenage pregnancy can be strong and lasting, explains Sarah Harte, LICSW, LCSW, clinical social worker, and director at The Dorm. “Removing the opportunity to choose to terminate a pregnancy can create feelings of being trapped and stuck, which can exacerbate pre-existing health conditions (both mental and physical),” Harte describes.

How to Talk to Teens About This News

Besides concerns about how this potential ruling might affect your teen’s access to abortion services, you might feel unsure about how to discuss this news. Experts agree not to shy away from the topic, especially because it’s likely your teen will hear about it whether you want them to or not.

“Some parents may assume that their children are too young to be impacted, but many teens and young adults are very tuned into social issues and feel very strongly about them,” says Harte. It’s important that when you talk to your teen about these issues you remain open-minded, as your teen may have different viewpoints than you. “This is a powerful time for parents to model the ability to respectfully discuss issues, without devolving into arguing or name-calling,” Harte suggests.

Rev. Zeh explains that it’s important to be open and honest with your teen about how this decision might impact their access to reproductive health care in the future. This can also be a good opportunity to talk in general about topics like sexuality and body autonomy, she says.

Dr. Lincoln recommends that you can also use this as an opportunity to talk about safe sex and pregnancy prevention. “As a parent, I know it might feel easier to think our kids will never have sex, but they will, and it’s important to be proactive and give them the information to do so safely when they choose to,” Dr. Lincoln reminds.

What This Means For You

Hearing news about abortion becoming illegal and less accessible can be stressful. If you are the parent of a teen, you likely have concerns, both about your teen’s access to reproductive health services and also about what this might mean for their future choices. If your state will make abortion illegal following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, you should talk to your pediatrician about what options your teen may have. You can also talk to your pediatrician about how to talk to your teen about this news, and how to talk to them about sexual health and pregnancy prevention in general.

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