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How abortion bans are impacting young people

More than a year after SCOTUS overturned federal protections for abortion, the ramifications for abortion access have become clearer. For young people, increasing abortion restrictions could disproportionately impact their reproductive health choices.

While restrictions affect all people seeking abortion, young people face additional logistical and legal obstacles, including current policy efforts that are now capitalizing on public narratives about the need to “protect” young people. For example, legislators in Idaho, a state that has already banned abortion, recently became the first state to criminalize assisting a person aged less than 18 years in traveling out of state to get a wanted abortion. In reality, past and current research highlights the ways in which adolescents could be disproportionally affected by these policies and abortion restrictions. Researchers Lauren J. Ralph, PhD, MPH, and Lee Hasselbacher, JD, outline this research, in an editorial for the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Findings show:

There are greater financial and other logistical barriers to care among adolescents, suggesting they are least equipped and able to travel. These obstacles will become increasingly insurmountable as more states ban abortion, and the distance needed to travel rises.
Many states require parental involvement in abortion for minors, although we know most young people voluntarily involve trusted adults and an important minority do not involve parents because they are unable to do so. As of May 2023, there are only 14 states where abortion without parental involvement is permitted, and two of these states are Hawaii and Alaska.
Because of these restrictions, young people will instead be forced to carry pregnancies to term, or they will seek abortion outside of the formal healthcare system. In a recent survey of abortion patients, 40% of 15-year-olds to 17-year-olds said they would consider doing something on their own to try to end the pregnancy if unable to get an abortion at that clinic, compared to 28% of 20-year-olds to 24-year-olds.


Recent policy developments should raise alarm among adolescent health advocates, providers, and researchers, especially considering that there is new research that shows young people are largely nervous about and anticipate negative consequences of removing federal protections on abortion. They recognize that their reproductive autonomy, as well as their health and safety, are at risk when abortion access is curtailed.

The authors write:

“It is time to listen to, amplify, and respond to the perspectives of young people in the post-Dobbs landscape; otherwise, we risk significant erosion of their health and rights moving forward.”

The article, Adolescents and Abortion Restrictions: Disproportionate Burdens and Critical Warnings, is available in Journal of Adolescent Health.