A Generation at Risk
How Teens Are Coerced and Manipulated Into Abortion
by Amy Sobie & David C. Reardon
Gaylene was 14 when she became pregnant. Too embarrassed to go directly to her parents, she turned to her high school guidance counselor for advice. She writes:
[The school counselor] was sympathetic and understanding. He felt there was no need to worry my family. He also explained about having a child, how tough it would be on me and that I wouldn’t be able to do what I wanted to do. He said that the child would suffer because I was much too young to be a parent. He pointed out that the best thing for me to do was to abort the fetus at this stage so no one would be hurt. No mention was made of talking to my parents about this or carrying the baby to term. He indicated that adoption would be difficult and not an option for me.
. . . I felt as though I had no control over what was happening to me. I started to question what I was doing, but in my logic I’d refer back to what the counselor had told me, and then I would think he was right. But still today, I feel like I did not decide to have the abortion.1
Gaylene’s traumatic reaction to her abortion experience included suicide attempts, alcoholism, drugs, crime, involvement in a cult and a major break with her family.
Sadly, Gaylene’s story is not unique. For teens, the possibility of developing psychological and emotional problems after abortion is substantially higher than for more mature women.2 One reason that teenagers are more vulnerable is because their psychological defense mechanisms are not fully developed. Their emotional immaturity leaves them more susceptible to events and circumstances that can profoundly damage their view of the world, other people, and themselves. Consequently, abortion can be especially harmful for teens because this major, traumatic experience occurs at a critical time in the development of their self-identity.3
Researchers have found that teenagers who have abortions face a number of higher risks. For example, teens are more likely to feel pressured into abortion, to report being misinformed in pre-abortion counseling and to experience more severe psychological stress after abortion.4 They are also more likely to experience more intense feelings of guilt, depression and isolation after an abortion.5 In addition, while suicidal tendencies are higher for all women after abortion, teens are at an even greater risk for post-abortion suicide.6
Further, a study of teens with "unwanted" pregnancies found that teens who aborted were more likely to have subsequent trouble sleeping, to report using marijuana after abortion and to undergo treatment for psychological and emotional problems compared to those who carried to term.7
Deception and Misinformation
Many teens are simply not mature enough to understand the information they need to make such a life-impacting choice. As a result, in many cases they are not able to freely consent to an abortion.
Even some pro-abortion groups have acknowledged that teenagers need extra guidance when it comes to abortion. For example, a Planned Parenthood counseling guide stated that teenagers have few or limited problem solving skills; are more likely than adults to lack responsibility; are more vulnerable; are more anxious and distrustful; are lacking in knowledge; and have difficulty in communicating. As a result, “counselors need to be aware of and appreciate the fact that pregnancy counseling with teenagers can be very different from counseling adults . . . pregnancy counseling with teens is often a crisis situation.”8
Unfortunately, while Planned Parenthood counselors recognize the vulnerability of teens, they oppose laws that would give the parents of teens the opportunity to help them understand the risks of and alternatives to abortion. For counselors who seek to promote abortion as the best or even only solution, keeping teens away from loved ones who would counsel against abortion is an important part of maximizing their own influence.
This is why so many teens feel under such immense pressure to abort. Over and over, women who had abortion as teenagers use phrases like the following to explain how they ended up having an unwanted abortion.
My school counselor (Planned Parenthood counselor, teacher, pastor, boyfriend’s mom, etc.) told me that if I didn’t want my parents to find out, I would have to have an abortion . . .
My boyfriend threatened me if I didn’t abort.
Everyone told me I was too young to have a baby and that my only alternative was abortion.
Pressure to abort can also include coercion, emotional blackmail and violence from a sexual predator or even parents who want to make sure their daughter has an abortion.9
In addition, a secret abortion always disrupts family relationships. To protect their secret, teenagers must be constantly on the alert against any evidence or mood that may invite unwanted questions. They must hide feelings of depression, sadness, and even thoughts of suicide that might otherwise alert their parents to the problem. If they cannot repress these feelings, the source must remain hidden or their emotions transformed into anger and rebellion. This overarching need for secrecy accentuates their feelings of shame and will often lead to withdrawal from family intimacy and excursions into drugs, alcohol and destructive relationships.
Any of these problems can dramatically exacerbate normal family tensions. Kept in the dark, parents cannot know that their child is struggling to cope with his or her abortion experience. With no frame of reference for understanding their child’s disturbed behavior, parents are likely to become increasingly frustrated at being held at a distance. In turn, the parents’ frustrations are likely to fuel the distrust or rebellious nature of the teen because they “simply don’t understand” what he or she is going through.
Unfortunately school counselors, social workers and others in positions of authority can exert tremendous influence over a vulnerable teenager, steering and even coercing her into an unwanted abortion.
For example, William Hickey, a high school guidance counselor in Hatboro, Pennsylvania, was sued by the parents of a 16-year-old girl for circumventing the state’s parental consent law by arranging for the teen to have a secret abortion in New Jersey. The girl’s parents, Howard and Marie Carter, subsequently filed a lawsuit against Hickey and the Hatboro-Horsham school district, charging that Hickey pressured their daughter to have an abortion despite her expressed doubts and beliefs against abortion.
The Carters said that Hickey “engaged in a course of conduct which was inherently coercive, was intended to and did exert undue influence upon [a minor], and ensured that she refrain from discussing with her parents her pregnancy and whether to obtain an abortion.” They said that when their daughter told Hickey she had doubts about undergoing an abortion, he told her, “Someday you’ll look back on this and laugh.”
The lawsuit also stated that school officials refused to cooperate when asked to investigate the situation. Instead, the Carters say they were told that the school district “has deep pockets” to defend itself from a lawsuit. The case was eventually settled out of court.9
ples of manipulation and coercion abound. In 2002, a judge found Planned Parenthood negligent for failing to report the case of an abortion performed on a 13-year-old girl who was being sexually abused by her foster brother. The 23-year-old man took the girl to a Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in 1998, but Planned Parenthood did not notify authorities until the girl returned six months later for a second abortion. A lawsuit alleged that the girl was subjected to repeated abuse and a second abortion because Planned Parenthood failed to notify authorities of possible abuse when she had her first abortion. Her abuser was sentenced to five years in prison and lifetime probation.10
Unfortunately, there are few safeguards currently in place to protect teenagers from coerced abortions. As we pointed out in a previous issue, in states where parental consent is needed for an abortion, the judicial bypass system is seriously flawed.
Without a mechanism to provide for cross-examination of witnesses and the introduction of witnesses who would testify that the abortion is not in the girl’s best interests, how can judges make an informed decision? How can we be sure that the adults seeking permission for the young girl to abort without notifying her parents are not themselves manipulating or pressuring the girl to choose abortion?
In addition, as the Carter case discussed above demonstrates, even in states that require parental consent, it is all too easy for those pushing abortion to simply transport the girl across the state line. The Child Custody Protection Act would make it a federal crime for anyone except a parent or legal guardian to take a girl out of state for an abortion in order to avoid involvement in the situation by the girl’s parents.
Even this will only protect a few teens, however. Sadly, in many cases it is the parents who are pressuring or coercing their teenage daughters into abortion. Planned Parenthood, however, is remarkably silent regarding the problem of protecting teens from pressure or manipulation by parents who favor abortion. The only way to protect these teens is to pass laws that will make abortionists liable for failing to protect women, especially teens, from coerced abortions.
Originally published in The Post-Abortion Review 8(1) Winter 2000. Copyright 2000 Elliot Institute.
1. Reardon, D., Aborted Women, Silent No More (Springfield, IL: Acorn Books, 2002) 37-38.
2. Rue, V. & Speckhard, A, “Post Abortion Trauma: Incidence & Diagnostic Considerations,” Medicine & Mind, 6: 57-75 (1991).
3. Deutsch, M., “Personality Factors, Self-Concept, and Family Variables Related to First Time and Repeat Abortion-Seeking Behavior in Adolescent Women.” Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Washington, D.C.: American University, 1982.
4. Franz, W. & Reardon, D., “Differential Impact of Abortion on Adolescents & Adults,” Adolescence, 27(105):162-172.
5. Biro, F., Wildey, L., Hillard, P., & Rauh, J., “Acute and Long-Term Consequences of Adolescents Who Choose Abortions,” Pediatric Annals, 15(10):667-672 (1986).
6. Mika Gissler, Elina Hemminki, Jouko Lonnqvist, "Suicides after pregnancy in Finland: 1987-94: register linkage study," British Medical Journal 313:14314, 1996; Campbell, N., Franco, K. & Jurs, S., “Abortion in Adolescence,” Adolescence, 23:813-823 (1988).
7. PK Coleman, “Resolution of Unwanted Pregnancy During Adolescence Through Abortion Versus Childbirth: Individual and Family Predictors and Psychological Consequences,” (2006).
8. Saltzman, L. & Policar, M., The Complete Guide to Pregnancy Testing and Counseling (Alameda, CA: Planned Parenthood, 1985) 113-114.
9. For more examples, see the book Giving Sorrow Words.
9. "Settlement announced in Pennsylvania Teen Abortion Case," press release from the American Center for Law & Justice, March 15, 2000.
10. "Planned Parenthood Found Negligent in Reporting Molested Teen's Abortion," Pro-Life Infonet, Dec. 26, 2002.
[Editor's Note: The following article is excerpted from the Jan.-March 2000 issue of The Post-Abortion Review]