Pediatricians voice concern over federal and state actions that could threaten the medical rights and safety of teenagers seeking reproductive healthcare, including pregnancy counseling and abortion
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) reaffirms its support for adolescents to receive comprehensive, evidence-based reproductive healthcare services, including abortion, within two updated policy statements approved for publication.
Updates to the statements, “Options Counseling for the Pregnant Adolescent Patient,” and “The Adolescent’s Right to Confidential Care When Considering Abortion,” were already underway as part of AAP’s 5-year policy renewal process. AAP published the statements now to help inform conversations around the anticipated Supreme Court decision that could impact Roe v. Wade and abortion rights.
“Everyone – including teenagers -- deserves the right to confidential medical care that best supports their own needs and is informed by their physician’s expertise,” said Elise D. Berlan, MD, MPH, FAAP, co-author of both policy statements, written by the AAP Committee on Adolescence.
“Teenagers need accurate information about their reproductive health options, as well as other vital services like comprehensive sex education and contraception. AAP is concerned that attempts to limit abortion care will not only interfere with the adolescents’ trusting, confidential relationship with their physician, but could result in real psychological and physical harm. Any delays in healthcare can increase volatility within a family, limit pregnancy options, or cause someone to seek an unsafe abortion.”
Both statements will be available online Friday, June 24, 2022, in Pediatrics.
AAP’s approach to pregnancy options counseling, which has been in place since 1989, affirms its position that pregnant adolescents have the right to be informed and counseled on their pregnancy options.
These options include continuing the pregnancy and raising the child; continuing the pregnancy and making an adoption, kinship care, or foster care plan; or terminating the pregnancy.
AAP advises that physicians be familiar with laws and policies in their state that impact access to abortion care, especially for minor adolescents. The policy also urges physicians to examine their own beliefs and values to determine if they can provide nonjudgmental, factual pregnancy options counseling.
“Laws that restrict access to reproductive health care have a disproportionate impact on young people of color and those in rural and medically underserved areas, as well as other populations,” said Elizabeth Alderman, MD, FAAP, FSAHM, chair of the AAP Committee on Adolescence. “People with resources, money, and transportation have the ability to travel to another state to receive the safe and legal care they need. For those who do not have those resources, including most adolescents, access to the health care they need is out of their reach. This reinforces the health disparities that exist across our country.”
Young people who identify as LGBTQ+ and young people involved in the juvenile justice and child welfare systems also have experienced added barriers when accessing comprehensive sex education, contraception, and abortion care, according to AAP.
In the statement, “The Adolescent’s Right to Confidential Care When Considering Abortion,” last updated in 2017, the AAP reiterates that adolescents under the age of 18 years of age should have the right to receive legal and confidential medical and surgical abortion care and counseling. The policy statement recommendations have remained consistent since AAP first published them in 1989. Most teens voluntarily involve their parents or trusted adults in decisions regarding pregnancy termination; others are encouraged to do so, if safe and appropriate.
“Ultimately, the pregnant teen has the right to decide whether to involve anyone in their decision to seek abortion care,” Dr. Berlan said. “AAP urges compassion and understanding for young people who need support during what could be a defining point in their life and in planning for the future.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 67,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit www.aap.org and follow us on Twitter @AmerAcadPeds.