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Why Do We Need to Talk about Abortion and Young Women?
The most common reason to choose an abortion among all women, from any social condition and region of the world, is having an unwanted pregnancy. The number of unwanted pregnancies in young women and adolescent girls is strongly linked with gender norms and inequity in education and work opportunities. In many cases, as adolescent girls and young women, we are not allowed to have control over our bodies, we are often not allowed or it is very hard for us to make decisions, and it is difficult for us to have control over household resources.
Unwanted pregnancies among young women happen because:
• We don’t have access to comprehensive sexuality education
• We don’t have (sufficient or complete) access to modern contraception
• We have unplanned, and therefore unprotected, sex
• We have non-consensual sex, (almost 50% of sexual attacks in the world happen to women under 16), therefore we have unprotected sex
• We don’t have access to counseling on contraception, therefore we don’t use it correctly or consistently
• Contraceptives are not 100% effective
According to the WHO, between 2.2 and 4 million young women around the world choose to have an abortion every year and near 35,000 young women under 25 die due to complications related to unsafe abortions. In developing countries 70% of all unsafe abortions happen among women under 30, that’s why we need to think about age when we try to understand barriers for access to services and contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Many times, a young woman or adolescent girls’ first attempt at accessing a reproductive health service is in the case of a miscarriage or for an abortion. This often makes it hard to determine if the procedure is being done in safe or unsafe conditions. Young women and girls are more exposed to having unsafe abortions even when it is legal because we have less access to information, less access to education which includes decision making skills, we have a smaller social network for support, there is no respect for our right to confidentiality, there are limited services available and medical staff often have negative attitude towards young women and adolescent girls.
In countries where abortion is heavily restricted or is completely against the law, young women and adolescent girls are left with only two options: to have a backstreet abortion, that could be unsafe, or, to continue a pregnancy that we didn’t choose or plan for. Both options bring social and health consequences that demonstrate ongoing inequality between women and men.
Oriana López Uribe is a Board Member of Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights. She is the Project Coordinator at Balance in Mexico City.