Ask An Expert: Reel Talk with Dr. Julia [Always and Forever]

It takes less than three minutes to watch the brilliant short film “Always & Forever,” a devastating commentary on the consequences of forcing children to give birth. Though the film is fictional, it points to reality: An increasing number of states are effectively doing just that to their pregnant teenagers. 

Lack of comprehensive sexuality education, barriers to contraception access, and severe limitations on access to abortion or outright bans all contribute to elevated rates of teen pregnancy. This carries heavy social consequences: Pregnant teens have increased risk of multiple adverse health outcomes. There are also adverse long-term psychosocial and economic impacts for teens parents and their children.

Adverse pregnancy outcomes:

Worldwide, complications from teen pregnancy and birth are the leading cause of death among girls aged 15-19. Many complications of pregnancy are more common in teenage, including high blood pressure and preeclampsia. Preeclampsia is a condition where pregnant patients develop high blood pressure and protein in their urine and other problems. If left untreated, it can progress to eclampsia, which causes seizures and sometimes even death. Postpartum endometritis (an infection in the lining of the uterus) and postpartum depression are also more common in teen pregnancies. 


Educational and economic impact on teens who become pregnant: 

Less than 50% of teen mothers finish high school, compared to 90% of women who do not give birth as teenagers. Teen fathers have a 25-30% lower chance of graduating from high school compared to their peers who are not fathers as teens. These educational gaps persist beyond high school. Fewer than 3% of teen mothers finish college by age 30 and only 10% or so ever complete a two- or four-year college program. These stats have important financial implications: girls who don’t complete high school earn $200,000 less over a lifetime compared to high school graduates and $1 million less compared to college graduates. 


Adverse impacts on the children of teen parents: 

Babies born to teens are at increased risk of low birth weight, preterm delivery, and neonatal death. Children of teen mothers have lower levels of emotional support and cognitive stimulation and are less prepared to learn when they enter kindergarten. Children of teens have more behavioral problems and chronic medical conditions, and they rely more heavily on publicly funded health care. They have higher rates of foster care placement. They have lower levels of achievement in school, and they are more likely to drop out of high school. Children of teens are more likely to be incarcerated. The cycle of teen pregnancy is hard to break ­— children born to teens are more likely to give birth as teens. Children of teens are also more likely to be unemployed or underemployed as adults.

The risks of teen pregnancy are well documented. Teens need comprehensive sexuality education and health care, including information about and access to contraception. The use of all forms of contraception present far fewer medical risks to teens than pregnancy and childbirth. The same is true of abortion: the risk of death associated with pregnancy and childbirth is 14 times higher than the risk associated with abortion.

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