Are College Women Getting Abortions?

Imagine yourself in your dorm or apartment bathroom. You’re sitting on the seat of your toilet, and in your hands there’s a home pregnancy test showing a pink plus sign. What would you do?  

There are few topics more loaded than abortion. Close to 40 years after Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide, the debate still rages. Politicians preach and push for changing abortion laws, pro-choice and pro-life rallies continue, and pamphlets and websites spout statistics and powerful rhetoric.

Yet despite this abundance of information, we don’t like to actually think about abortion. At least not as something that could happen to us. Most of us know (or at least have a pretty good idea) where we stand on the issue as a legal or political controversy. But no matter your views on abortion in a theoretical sense, what if you found yourself actually faced with such a serious decision? What if your best friend did? Can you really know what you would feel, think, or do in that situation?

This is the exact dilemma that many college women face every year. According to a 2008 study about 20 percent of women (that’s one in five) will have an abortion by the time she is 25. It’s hard to know exactly how many of those abortions occur in college-age women, but some statistics estimate as many as 45 percent. It makes sense: college is notorious for sex, but few college women are emotionally or financially prepared to raise a baby.

The laws

Abortion is a legal procedure, and a safe one if it is done correctly with the help and guidance of a trained physician.

If you’re in college, chances are you’re 18 or older, which means you can make the decision to get an abortion without your parents’ permission. But if you are under 18, your state may require consent or notification from your parents to have an abortion – although in many states, a judge can excuse you from this requirement. Planned Parenthood’s website lists the requirements for parental consent by state.

The decision

Every woman who has had an abortion first had to make the decision. And for many of these women, this is by far the toughest part.

“I’m in college and couldn't afford or deal with the fact that I was pregnant,” says Tammy, a senior at UNC-Chapel Hill who had an abortion a year ago. “I knew an abortion would be the only way for me personally. I was scared at first, and in denial that this was actually happening for a while. But once I went to the clinic, the staff answered all my questions and made me feel very comfortable.”

The decision is easier for some than it is for others. Alexis, a senior at UC-Irvine, chose to have an abortion at 18 because she was a victim of abuse. “If I hadn't, I wouldn't be where I am today, away from my abuser, safe, and helping hundreds of other women stay out of abusive relationships and get ahead in the world,” she says. “I am so glad I made the decision, and I know that it is very common among young women, just never really mentioned.”

For those who haven’t faced an unplanned pregnancy, it can be difficult to imagine what you would do in that situation. For religious, personal or family reasons, many find it hard to imagine going through with an abortion.

“I have always said I could never get an abortion, but I have no idea what I would feel if I got pregnant right now,” says Kathryn, a junior at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. “I know I don't want a baby right now because I have so many things I want to accomplish. Of course while I'm not pregnant, it's easy to say that I would never get one. But, I wonder if I did get pregnant if I would consider it.”

Many realize that, in the case of an unplanned pregnancy, getting an abortion would be a serious consideration. “I would consider getting one because there is a lot more I want to do with my life,” says Anna, a senior at Duke University. “If I were older, in love with my partner, felt like he would support me, etc. I would consider keeping the baby because I really don't like the idea of getting an abortion, but otherwise I would feel that I would need to do it for my own sanity. I am just not even prepared to get prepared to raise a kid.”

For any woman dealing with an unplanned pregnancy, Planned Parenthood provides information on adoption and pre-natal care, as well as abortion. “We provide unbiased, non-directive options counseling,” says Paige Johnson, vice president of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina. “For every woman who comes in, she receives counseling about all of her pregnancy options and what services are available to help her through all of those choices.”