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Teen Pregnancy: When the Choice Is Abortion : The Most Popular Option Is Still a Difficult Decision Requiring Help

One in a series on teen--age pregnancy.

July 16, 1985|LYNN SMITH | Times Staff Writer

"Do you have any questions?" asks the counselor.

Molly, 14, sits in a worn, overstuffed chair in the counseling room of an Orange County free clinic, staring at her lap. She shakes her head. Then she covers her face with her hands and doubles over, her shoulders shaking.

The counselor waits. Finally a single, loud sob erupts.

"What are you feeling?" asks the counselor.

"I just hurt," says Molly (a pseudonym), responding to the news that she is eight weeks pregnant. "I'm too young to have a kid. It would just ruin my life and stuff.

"If I was older maybe I would have it. But now there's nothing I can do. I don't want to have it at all right now."

Thus, at an age when some girls do not yet choose their own clothing, Molly chooses abortion.

Among teen-agers, it is the most popular solution to unwanted pregnancy.

In 1981, according to a special 1984 report from the California Senate Office of Research, 70,143 (49%) of the state's 143,160 pregnant teen-agers, ages 15 to 19, obtained abortions. California is one of only 16 states that still provide government funding for abortions. (Every year since 1978, the American Civil Liberties Union has persuaded the courts to strike down legislation limiting Medi-Cal funding of abortions. In recent weeks, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California also has filed suit to stop an anti-abortion provision in the state budget. The measure, which was left in the budget through a clerical error and was then supported by Gov. George Deukmejian, would take away state funding of family planning agencies that offer abortion-related services, including abortion counseling.)

Cost of an abortion ranges from $195 (at some clinics) to $1,500 (in some hospitals) for a suction abortion, a vacuum process used in the first 12 weeks (the first trimester) of pregnancy. After 12 weeks, the procedure becomes more complicated and more costly.

The risks of hemorrhage, uterine perforation and infection rise dramatically after 15 or 16 weeks, say physicians. Many stop performing abortions after 20 or 22 weeks.

Since a U. S. Supreme Court decision in 1973, American women of all ages have been able to obtain unrestricted abortions in the first trimester; however, states may impose qualifications in the second and third trimesters. California has no such restriction.

The Reagan Administration Monday asked the Supreme Court to reverse its landmark 1973 decision that established the constitutional right to an abortion. In a brief filed by the Department of Justice, the Administration argued that the court's ruling in a case known as Roe vs. Wade was too broad and blocked even modest efforts by state and local government to regulate abortion.

Although abortion is legally and medically accepted, young women planning abortion, some doctors who perform abortions and some counselors requested anonymity for this story--fearing criticism, ostracism or retaliation from those who oppose abortion on moral grounds.

Like many pregnant teens, Molly is afraid her parents won't understand. To the counselor, she revealed only that she became pregnant by a former boyfriend. (The counselor did not suspect sexual abuse. Otherwise, she would have reported it to the Child Abuse Registry. She also is required to report any pregnant girl age 13 or younger.)

It is not easy for a 14-year-old to arrange an abortion on her own. "Some of these girls can't even get to school on time," said one high school counselor. Suddenly, beyond the shock of finding themselves pregnant and making a decision, they need to hide phone calls from their parents, make up excuses to get out of school for appointments, find transportation and raise nearly $200 from friends or through Medi-Cal. (Medi-Cal cards to "pay" for an abortion are issued to income-eligible women without regard to age or parents' income, said a spokesman from a local Medi-Cal office.)

Molly persuaded her new boyfriend, who is 16, to skip his last class of the day and drive her and a girlfriend to the free clinic for the pregnancy test. At the clinic, the matter-of-fact counselor tests Molly's urine for pregnancy, tells her the results, informs her of her rights and options, including adoption and keeping the baby and discusses methods of birth control.

From her counselor, Molly learns that under California law she has the right to decide on her own what to do about the pregnancy and the right to confidential treatment. (Some who support SB7, proposed state legislation to require young women 17 and under to have a parent's consent for abortion, say teens are abusing their right to abortion and using it as a form of birth control.)

After indicating that she will choose abortion, Molly learns that an abortion will involve a pelvic exam, that she can either be awake or asleep during the two- to seven-minute procedure, that, if awake, she will feel continuous cramping followed by a large cramp at the end.

Tendency to Delay

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