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Abortion and Teenage Pregnancy

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In 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court issued an unprecedented ruling. Abortion, it said, is virtually a private

matter for the woman to decide. "This right of privacy . . . is broad enough to encompass a woman's decision

whether or not to terminate her pregnancy" (Roe v. Wade, slip opinion, pp. 37-38). Beginning in the fourth

month of pregnancy, the Court held, the state could impose some health restrictions on the performance of

abortion, if it chose to do so, and in the sixth or perhaps seventh month it could-if it so chose-extend some

protection to the "potential human life" in the mother's womb (full rights of human personhood are not to be

recognized by the law until at least birth). But, whether in the third, sixth, or ninth month of pregnancy, the

private right of the woman to obtain an abortion is always paramount.

The Court's tragic decision is based on two fundamental errors:

First, the life of the unborn child is assigned a moral value of zero.

Second, abortion is essentially considered in a vacuum, apart from all other human relationships.

The woman, in consultation with her physician, has the final power to decide whether and why the

abortion should be performed. No one else has any say in the matter.

YetÐŽXdespite what the Court saidÐŽXit is a fact that the generation of new human life is an event of

immense social importance. Court decisions do not create this reality, nor can they destroy it. Many aspects of

this process of generation are personal, but none can properly be called altogether private-that is, pertaining to

the individual alone. When the Court called abortion a private matter for the woman to decide, it adopted a legal

fiction-a fiction which helps society silently condone the performance of what it knows to be a morally

shameful act.

At least since 1969, when national records on the subject were first kept, about one-third of all legal

abortions each year have been performed on teenagers-upwards of 300,000 in 1974. Teenagers make up a

significant single group of abortion recipients. They are also the most humanly vulnerable group. In what

follows we shall discuss in some detail the situation of the pregnant, unwed teenager. We shall conclude with

several reflections on why changes are needed in public policy.

Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities 1977


The incidence of legal abortion has been increasing dramatically since it was first introduced in an

appreciable way in several states in 1967. It is estimated that in 1975 the number of abortions in the United

States exceeded one million. Apparently, the annual figure has not yet peaked (a phenomenon which usually

occurs several years after a permissive abortion policy has been introduced). Teenagers, along with other age

groups, have increasingly turned to abortion, and this trend will probably continue for several years.

The available data do not make it clear how many of the teenagers who obtain abortions are married and

how many are not. However, it seems safe to assume that the vast majority are unmarried. The estimated

national figure for unmarried women obtaining abortions in all age groups was 70.9 percent in 1974. Most

likely, the figure for the teen years was even higher.

In light of this, one can hardly ignore the question of the relationship between the pregnant, unmarried

daughter and her parents. This question becomes even more important when we realize that an estimated 13,000

girls under the age of 15 obtained abortions in 1974. (According to the Center for Disease Control this age

group had more abortions than live births.)


Some studies correlate the availability of legal abortion with recent declines in the rate of illegitimacy

(Sklar and Berkov). Increased use of contraception may also account for some of the decrease.

Not surprisingly, some advocate contraception and abortion as the means to combat teenage


However, the use of contraception by the unmarried teenager is notoriously ineffective. Unmarried,

emotionally immature teenagers are not the same as married, emotionally mature adults. As it is, the failure rate

in contraceptive use among married adults is fairly high (Cutright, pp. 417-418). In contrast to the married, the

sexual behavior of the unmarried teenager is irregular, infrequent, and generally unplanned. Further, the

behavior is often highly romanticized and the values of "spontaneity" and "naturalness" may be highly prized.

Recent studies also show that sexually active teenagers possess a poor knowledge of the biology of

reproduction (Zelnik and Kantner).

For reasons such as these, those who advocate contraception as a solution for the problem of

out-of-wedlock teenage pregnancies consider abortion as an essential "backstop" method. An abortion will

surely prevent a birth.




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