Impacts of the Dobbs Decision on Children: Teen/Child Pregnancy
Cowritten by Sarah Bousquet – Research & Development Intern and Social Science Director – AJ Ortiz
This past June, the Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson overturned both Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), the previous Supreme Court decisions that protected women and girls’ right to an abortion. In response to the decision, states were quick to pass even more severe restrictions to abortion access. The impacts of this decision and new laws in several states are dangerous, particularly for pregnant adolescents.
For children who may become pregnant, there are significant health risks associated with carrying a pregnancy to term, and the language of current abortion bans throughout the United States is vague in what would be allowed as exceptions for the health and well-being of the mother. Many of these abortion bans do not have an exception for rape or incest. In their rush to roll back reproductive rights, pro-life activists have neglected the well-being of vulnerable youth who may be victims of sexual abuse.
Rates of Child Pregnancy
While a great deal of the media and public attention has been focused on how this decision would affect women, there has been a lack of focus on how young girls will be affected.
In 2020, there were 158,043 births to teenagers ages 15 to 19. Roughly 75% of pregnancies in this age group are unplanned. Of the girls who become pregnant, approximately 61% will deliver, 25% will have an abortion, and 15% will see their pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth.
There are many risk factors that can lead to adolescent pregnancy which may include early marriage, peer pressure, lack of sex education, and experiencing child sexual abuse (CSA). Research suggests that almost half of pregnant adolescents have a history of child sexual abuse (CSA), and young girls who experience CSA may be twice as likely to experience teen pregnancy.
Although teen pregnancy rates have declined in recent decades, the issue is still a substantial public health concern. Sexual abuse is a major factor in many cases of teen pregnancy, and the experience of pregnancy itself contains health risks for the young mother.
Health Risks of Child Pregnancy
Not only does having a child at a very young age change the trajectory of an adolescent’s life, but it can also put them physically at risk if their bodies are not fully developed.
- There are many health risks associated with carrying a pregnancy to term for both women and girls.
An analysis of births among women of all ages found that more than 50,000 people a year suffer from dangerous or life-threatening complications from pregnancy.
- Pregnancy at a young age may further elevate risk of dangerous outcomes. A Center for Disease Control and Prevention analysis found that, from 2016 to 2019, adolescent pregnancies were associated with increased odds of several maternal complications, including
- hypertensive disorders (related to high blood pressure),
- eclampsia (seizures related to high blood pressure and excess protein),
- heavy bleeding after birth,
- chlamydial and gonorrheal infections,
- and premature birth, which may explain an association between youth pregnancies and lower-birth weight and risk of neonatal death. ,
- Neonatal complications, such as congenital birth defects (medical conditions developed in the womb) and low Apgar scores (measure of the physical condition of a newborn), are also more common in adolescent pregnancies. Following these adolescent pregnancies, negative outcomes include:
- higher rates of endometritis (inflammation of the lining of the uterus),
- reopening of surgical wounds, and kidney infection.
Complications related to high blood pressure, infections, and premature birth are even more likely for children under the age of 15, and pregnancies among this age group are also associated with an increased risk of severe health effects.
Actions can be taken to help mitigate the effects of these extreme anti-abortion laws. Public health initiatives should focus on providing access to both contraception and therapeutic abortions, as well as adequate care for adolescents who carry their pregnancy to term. As the policy debate over abortion access shifts toward state legislatures, we must prioritize the needs of vulnerable children and teens. Pregnancy prevention strategies, access to abortion, and the improvement of healthcare interventions are crucial to mitigating adverse pregnancy outcomes and should be prioritized in light of the Dobbs decision to protect not only the women but the young girls who will become pregnant.