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Patterns of Consultation Among Adolescent Minors Obtaining an Abortion

Original article authored by: Michael D. Resnick, Linda H. Bearinger, Patricia Stark, and Robert W. Blum

This summary includes the following sections:

Background

At the time this study was published in 1994, Minnesota state law required teenagers to have written proof that both parents have been notified before an abortion takes place. If a teen was unable or unwilling to notify both parents, she had the option of going to court to get certification that she was mature enough to provide informed consent for her own abortion.

This study explored who teenagers turn to for support and guidance when seeking an abortion, and whether Minnesota's law changes patterns of seeking advice from adults.

Methods

The researchers interviewed 148 adolescents seeking abortions in four Minnesota clinics and 37 adolescents seeking abortions in two Wisconsin clinics. (Unlike Minnesota, Wisconsin did not have a parent notification law in 1994.) Even though the Wisconsin group was much smaller, the researchers found no differences between the Minnesota and Wisconsin teenagers in terms of age, ethnicity, employment status, family income, or other indicators.

Participants ranged in age from 13 to 17. Most (91.6%) were white; 6% were African-American and 3% were Asian, American Indian, and Hispanic.

Each of the 185 participants was interviewed twice: once on the day of her abortion (answering a written questionnaire and participating in a face-to-face interview while waiting for her appointment) and again a year later (by telephone). Participation rates for the first data collection were relatively high — 83% for the Minnesota clinics and 62% in Wisconsin. However, the follow-up interviews a year later were completed by only 45% of the original participants. Some had moved away from home and others never returned the researchers' calls. Despite the smaller sample, the researchers found no significant differences between those they were able to speak with and those who did not complete a second interview in terms of age, grade, socio-economic status, ethnicity, religion, parental notification, or other indicators they had collected at the time of the first interview.

Findings

The researchers divided the adolescents' pregnancies into three stages: suspicion of pregnancy, confirmation of pregnancy, and the decision to end the pregnancy.

In the first stage, 41% consulted one other person, 25% consulted two people, 5% consulted three people — and 29% consulted no one. This pattern shifted once the pregnancy was confirmed, with half of the teenagers consulting at least one parent and 75% consulting with an adult (a parent or someone other than a parent). On average, teens in this study consulted 1.1 people during the "suspicion" stage and 2.9 people once the pregnancy was confirmed. In the earliest stage, the teens turned to their male partners and friends, but once the pregnancy was confirmed, they were much more likely to consult parents (especially mothers).

A year later, when asked about who had been most helpful in their decision-making about the pregnancy, the teenagers continued to cite mothers and male partners first, followed by friends and then counseling services. When asked why these sources were helpful, the teens talked about their closest, most supportive relationships (57.7%); an objective, respected source of advice (23.1%); generally being helpful in the decision-making process (11.5%); someone who had had an abortion and understood what they were going through (6.2%); and someone who helped pay for the abortion (1.5%). The least helpful were those who demonstrated anger or refused to discuss the abortion, or who could not understand and were perceived as judgmental and blaming.

In terms of consulting adults, the study found that 75% of the adolescents had talked to an adult by the time their pregnancies were confirmed although 44% decided not to involve their parents. Those who did not involve parents or other adults tended to be the oldest adolescents in this sample (17-year-olds). Moreover, a year later, they had not changed their opinions about involving adults and whether or not they should have involved their parents.

The researchers conclude that, "the argument that mandated parental notification promotes parental involvement is, to date, unsubstantiated by data." Teenagers decide to consult their parents or other adults if they perceive that these adults will be helpful and supportive — and this is a function of overall relationships and communication, the researchers note, "not amenable to change or modification by legislation or court enactment."

Parental notification laws like Minnesota's, the researchers conclude, are ineffective, unnecessary, "restrictive for individuals, burdensome on families, and difficult for the courts to implement."

Resnick, M., Bearinger, L., Stark, P., and Blum, R. (April 1994). Patterns of Consultation Among Adolescent Minors Obtaining an Abortion. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 64(2), 310-316.

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