By Randall K. O’Bannon, Ph.D., NRL Director of Education & Research
While there are some questionable assumptions, some limitations to the data, it is hard to ignore the clear implication of a recent study of teens who abort: that some parents, mothers in particular, are pushing their daughters to have abortions.
The study, “The Role of Parents and Partners in Minor’s Decisions to Have an Abortion and Anticipated Coping After Abortion,” appeared the December 13, 2013 online edition of the Journal of Adolescent Health (www.jahonline.org).
Two of the authors are familiar names from the “Turnaway” study, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) researchers Diana Greene Foster and Heather Gould . Other authors include Lauren Ralph, another colleague of theirs from the University of California System at Berkeley, and Anne Baker, a clinic counselor associated with Hope Clinic in Granite City, IL. 
The study looked at 2008 data from 5,109 women who had abortions at a single, unnamed abortion clinic, in a state “without a parental involvement requirement.” Nine percent, or 476, were minors 17 years old and younger.
More than half of the aborting women were white, while about four in ten were African-American. Only about 1% were Hispanic. Seven percent of the minor teens had already given birth to a child.
Researchers looked at data from medical records and counseling needs assessment forms from patients visiting the clinic in 2008. They sought to determine how many minor teens told their parents (or partners) of their plans to abort, how supportive they were of their decision, and what pressure they felt to abort and from whom.
Ralph et al. also tried to assess women’s attitudes towards abortion, their confidence in their abortion decision, and how well those women expected to be able to cope with their abortions once they were performed.
Researchers say that their data show that most mothers knew of and were supportive of their minor daughter’s decision to abort. Nearly two thirds (64%) of minors in the study said their mother was aware, and 93% of those mothers were said to be “supportive.” Note that simply meant that the teen responded affirmatively in some manner to the question “Is this person supportive to you in what you want to do?”
A minor’s father was less likely to know of the decision to abort. While just 38% were aware, the teens indicated that 85% of their fathers who did know were supportive. About 80% of a minor’s “partners” (the baby’s father) were aware of her decision to abort (83%) and, if aware, were “supportive” (85%).
To make sure we’re clear, this would mean that just over a third (36%) of minors’ mothers and nearly two thirds of minors’ fathers (62%) were not informed or for some reason not deemed aware of the abortion. Generally, though, the data indicates that the father of the child was informed and was supportive of the decision to abort.
While most (81%) had what researchers termed “high confidence” in their abortion decisions, one in ten minors aborting at this clinic indicated that they were pressured; they sought abortion “mostly because someone else wants them to.” The study’s authors were willing to classify 7% as being “pushed” to have abortions (due to the pressure and “low confidence” in some cases). While authors said women at this clinic who revealed the presence of coercion were counseled to delay abortion or receive additional counseling or referrals, there is no guarantee that women visiting other clinics were afforded such alternatives.
It must be noted that this study looked at women from a single clinic with a relatively large abortion clientele. Though a handful appear to have been counseled not to abort (at least at their initial encounter), a clinic doing more than five thousand abortions a year would have quite a workload, approaching 14 abortions a day.
This means, most likely, that this not some full service hospital, but a full scale abortion mill that is probably widely known to be such in the surrounding community. And that means that the women showing up here are probably much more likely to already be “abortion-minded” than a teen showing up at the office of a private practice ob-gyn or a small “family planning” clinic that presents itself as helping women “plan” their “parenthood.”
This certainly colors the data, making it difficult to extrapolate to the teens in general or even to the experience of minors and their parents at other clinics across the U.S.. However it does raise concerns.
It is no surprise here to see that minors are more likely to tell their boyfriends than they are anyone else. Not simply because he is the father and there is necessarily any strong desire to let him have a say. It may be because he is, in part, a chief cause of the crisis and thus an obvious choice to turn to for the teen who is seeking a solution. That interaction may be as detached as a confirmation that he will indeed pay for the abortion. But it might also be a curiosity, even a longing, that there might be some indication that he would be willing to make the relationship permanent and welcome the child in life.
The advice of many abortion counselors, that a male be “supportive of whatever decision his partner makes,” can too easily be taken as lack of interest or enthusiasm in either the mother or the child, crushing whatever glimmer of hope remains.
Given the prevalence of abortion in the 1980s, there is a likelihood that many of the mothers coaching their daughters to abort have had abortions themselves, aborting what would have been older or younger siblings of teen now deciding what to do with her own baby. That there might be some level of rationalization, some self justification in their advice to their daughters is not difficult to imagine.
And that, over the past thirty years or so, these grandmothers would have internalized many of the arguments and rationalizations made for abortion– that it will ruin the chance at any career, threaten a life of poverty and living with the shame of single motherhood, make it impossible to have an ideal marriage and family–so they would urge an abortion as the only real way to avoid a bad situation.
Though given less opportunity to be involved here, the fathers of these minor daughters would also have been affected by the abortion zeitgeist, if not as aborting fathers, then as men sold the mass media myth of abortion as a painless, easy way out for everyone.
Even in these discouraging statistics, there are some glimmers of hope. About a third (31%) of minors said that they thought that abortion was similar to killing a baby that is already born. Even though it may be difficult to ascertain precisely how a teen understood that statement, it is encouraging to know that this was nearly double the percentage of adults (16%) who voiced a similar sentiment. It does not seem a stretch to say that the younger generation seems to display a greater sense of “baby awareness” than do their parents.
Close to half of minors (49%) expressed what authors termed “some spiritual concerns about abortion” and 24% indicated they were “concerned about God’s forgiveness.” Percentages for adults on these questions were lower (43% and 18%, on the two questions, respectively), but not significantly so.
Though this study explicitly involved the records of minors from an abortion clinic in a state without parental involvement laws, it is unclear what the study’s implications are for teens or such laws. The clinic could have been just across the state line from a major metropolitan area in a state with a parental consent or notification law. Teens could have been under the impression that some sort of parental permission was required and could have felt they needed to give the counselor the impression that they had talked to their parents when they had not. And this particular clinic, because of its size and reputation, may have attracted a more abortion minded population to start with.
Some parents will indeed try and talk their teens into abortions, thinking they will preserve the “family reputation” or somehow spare their daughter years of misery. This simply means that our educational efforts will not only have to focus on teenage girls or even single college aged women, two of the groups that have historically been responsible for many of the abortions in America, but also upon older women who may even be past their childbearing years but are now in a position to pass on their painful mistakes, previous rationalizations, and unresolved issues to their own children.
Many of these teens have some moral qualms and clearly realize they are considering the destruction of another human life. With just a bit of encouragement, a little bit of hope, and better information about alternatives to abortion that are better for both mother and child, many more will be able to fight the pressure to abort their babies.
(2) Information about Baker’s work can be found at www.nrlc.org/archive/news/2009/NRL03/Glamour.html