Compared to teen mothers, girls who have an abortion before age 18 have no negative effects that carry into early adulthood, a nationwide study in Finland suggests.
Girls who had underage abortions tended to have higher educational attainment and were less likely to be dependent on welfare at age 25 compared to the girls who gave birth, the study team found.
“This is the result we were expecting,” said coauthor Oskari Heikinheimo of University of Helsinki and the Helsinki University Central Hospital.
Previous studies have linked teen motherhood to lower educational levels and worse physical and mental health in adulthood, but had not analyzed the same outcomes after abortion, the authors write in the journal Human Reproduction, online July 7.
“It becomes clear that really the only difference was, young women who went on to continue the pregnancy and deliver, their overall level of education was then lower than women who chose to have an abortion,” Heikinheimo told Reuters Health. “And of course it certainly makes a lot of sense.”
In the developed world, a large proportion of all teenage pregnancies end in induced abortion, he and his co-authors write. Among 15- to 19-year-olds, this proportion has been 30 percent in the U.S., 43 percent in the UK, 77 percent in Sweden and 59 percent in Finland in recent years, they add.
According to the CDC, there were 249,000 babies born to women 15 to 19 years old in 2014 in the U.S. Only about 50 percent of teen mothers attain a high school diploma by age 22 compared to 90 percent of teen girls who don’t give birth, the agency says.
For the new study, the researchers analyzed data on 29,000 women born in Finland in 1987 and followed until 2012 when they were 25 years old. Of that group, 394 gave birth and 1,041 had abortions before age 18. The researchers compared the two groups with teen pregnancies to each other and to a reference group of women with no pregnancies before age 20.
The risk of psychiatric disorders and drug overdose by age 25 was similar for those who had an abortion and those who gave birth. The authors note that compared to the reference group, both groups with teen pregnancies were more economically disadvantaged and had higher levels of risk-taking behavior before and after becoming pregnant.
But compared to girls who gave birth, those who had an abortion got higher grades in school and tended to come from families with higher socioeconomic status. Both groups had lower levels of parental education and a higher need for income support in childhood than the reference group.
“I’m very glad about these results because there is a lot of misinformation about abortion,” particularly in American political discourse, Heikinheimo said.
The Finnish political and social attitude toward reproductive choices is more liberal than in other countries, including the U.S., Heikinheimo said. In terms of risk factors, unplanned pregnancy is one piece in a complicated puzzle.
“It would be very important that even for young women who choose to have a child that society do its best to guarantee they have a chance to continue schooling,” he said. “Family planning services should be available for those who need them.”