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Teen Girls Need Access to Safe and Legal Abortion

On International Day of the Girl, Imagine Life with Reproductive Rights Guaranteed

Lorena (a pseudonym) was arrested after having a miscarriage on suspicion of having an abortion. She’s facing criminal charges. © 2019 Amy Braunschweiger for Human Rights Watch
Today, on International Day of the Girl, we have an opportunity to reflect on what life could be like if girls around the world had access to safe and legal abortion.

I’ve done research in countries with some of the world’s harshest abortion laws. I’ve met girls and young women whose lives were derailed by an unplanned pregnancy during adolescence.

“Lucely,” from the Dominican Republic, became pregnant at age 16. “Everything ended right there,” she said. Abortion is banned in all circumstances in the country, so she couldn’t get a safe and legal abortion. She tried using a home remedy to end the pregnancy, but it didn’t work. She gave birth, and without a support network to help her, she dropped out of school.

Too many girls find themselves in similar situations, forced to choose between clandestine – and often risky – abortions or continuing an unwanted pregnancy. Globally, nearly four million adolescents ages 15 to 19 have unsafe abortions each year, and 16 million give birth, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Worldwide, a staggering 120 million adolescent girls and young women under 20 have faced sexual violence. This year, an 11-year-old girl was forced to give birth in Argentina after she was raped by a 65-year-old man. Authorities repeatedly ignored her requests for an abortion.

Young adolescents have a higher risk of health complications and death from pregnancy than adults. WHO report complications from pregnancy and childbirth are the leading cause of death for girls and young women 15 to 19. Pregnant girls and young mothers are sometimes kicked out of school, or pushed to marry at an early age. Research has shown that women who marry at early ages are more likely to experience intimate partner than women who marry as adults.

If governments guaranteed access to safe, legal abortion, a girl facing an unwanted pregnancy for any reason would have the chance to consider her options and decide whether she was ready to become a mother, and how her choice would affect her health and her future. She would be able to choose to delay motherhood and receive a safe abortion if that’s what she wanted.

Every girl should have that choice.

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