New Analysis Sheds Light on the Unique Barriers US Adolescents Face in Obtaining Abortion Care

Research emphasizes that adolescents depend on more support than adults when seeking abortion care

The latest analysis from Guttmacher’s Abortion Patient Survey provides an in-depth look at the characteristics and circumstances of adolescent abortion patients in the years immediately before Roe v. Wade was overturned. Notably, adolescent abortion patients were found to be more likely than adult abortion patients to experience delays in accessing care due to lack of information and transportation barriers. Abortion bans and restrictions implemented post-Dobbs have exacerbated the logistical challenges that adolescents already faced when obtaining abortion care.  

Originally published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, “Characteristics and Circumstances of Adolescents Obtaining Abortions in the United States” examines the sociodemographic and situational circumstances of US adolescents obtaining abortion care prior to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Drawing on findings from the 2021–2022 Abortion Patient Survey, the study compares information from adolescents younger than 20 with data from young adults aged 20–24 and adults older than 25.  

“We found that compared with adults, adolescents were more likely to have a second-trimester abortion. Adolescents are generally less likely to have an income and to know they are pregnant, which can contribute to delayed care,” says Doris W. Chiu, research associate at the Guttmacher Institute. “With abortion currently banned in 14 states and highly restricted in many others, post-Dobbs gestational bans are only pushing reproductive health care further out of reach for young people.” 

Key findings: 

  • 66% of adolescents reported that someone had driven them to the facility, compared with 48% of adults.
  • 54% of adolescents reported paying out of pocket for their abortion, at an average cost of $499. 
  • 54% of adolescents delayed expenses or sold something to help cover the costs of the abortion, compared with 46% of adults. 
  • 70% of adolescent respondents wanted to have their abortion sooner. 
  • 19% of adolescents did not know where to get their abortion, compared with 11% of adults. 
  • 57% of adolescents reported not knowing they were pregnant, compared with 43% of adults. 

“This analysis emphasizes that adolescents face unique barriers to seeking reproductive health care, and the Dobbs decision will only continue to exacerbate such challenges. Anti-abortion politicians are intent on exploiting these vulnerabilities by introducing policies specifically targeting young people's access to abortion," says Candace Gibson, director of state policy for the Guttmacher Institute. "Yet adolescents are truly the experts of their own lives and deserve the full range of information and services so they can make the best decisions for themselves about their health.” 

The full analysis is available here.