Over the last decade teenage pregnancy has been regarded as an increasingly pressing problem for government. This project is seeking to gather the views of young women between the ages of 13 and 24 in order to build on our understanding of debates about teenage pregnancy, by exploring the issues surrounding it with young women themselves, specifically to look at the relationship between the decision to continue or abort a pregnancy and the transition to adulthood. The research is being conducted in Doncaster, which has a high rate of under sixteen conception.
Disclaimer: The following news articles, from today's press, do not necessarily reflect the views of SATSU, The Joseph Rowntree Fund or the findings of the Teenage Pregnancy Research.
Coverage of the findings of the Teenage Pregnancy project has been widespread. Dr Sharon Tabberer, the researcher in charge of the project, completed 19 Radio interviews between 7 and 9am this morning (Wed 15th Nov 2000).
Just some of the coverage can be found by moving through the tabs.
Sharon Tabberer, Dr Christine Hall, Professor Andrew Webster, Dr Shirley Prendergast
Sharon Tabberer, Research Fellow, SATSU. Timeframe: 1998-1999
Young women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy are faced with a decision that can affect the rest of their life, yet little is known about what influences this decision. This qualitative study looks in-depth at this decision-making period. Through interviews with 41 young women who had decided either to continue with their pregnancy or to have an abortion, focus groups within the wider community and interviews with parents, the researchers looked at the impact of social, economic and cultural factors on the decision taken. They found:
Over the last decade, teenage pregnancy has been regarded as an increasingly pressing problem for government culminating in recent pledges to halve the rate of teenage conceptions within ten years. This is to be achieved via a series of national and local initiatives that aim first, to prevent teenage conceptions and second, to offer support to young mothers to minimise any disadvantage that early motherhood might bring.
However, these policies do not address the intermediate period during which a young woman decides either to continue with a pregnancy or to have an abortion. This is no doubt due, at least in part, to the considerable political, ethical, cultural and religious sensitivities surrounding these issues. But it also due to a real lack of knowledge about this crucial time of decision-making in young women's lives.
This research focused on this intermediate period of decision-making, examining the complex factors that shape decisions, reflecting social beliefs, attitudes towards parenting, adulthood and sexuality, and formal sources of advice and counselling.
Almost all of the women interviewed had not planned to become pregnant and had been shocked at finding themselves pregnant. For a few, confirming the pregnancy had been a difficult period, taking place in some instances over some months as they went through a series of pregnancy tests from a variety of agencies and sought to understand the changes taking place in their bodies.
Once the pregnancy had been confirmed, young women often had to take the decision about whether or not to continue with the pregnancy very quickly to fit in the time limits on abortion. Time was particularly short for those who had not realised they were pregnant until four or five months has passed, either because of false negative pregnancy tests or an unwillingness to face up to the situation they found themselves in. In making the decision they might or might not have the support of others, such as parents or boyfriends. Perhaps unsurprisingly in light of the time available, their own pre-existing views and the experiences of those surrounding them were a primary influence on the young women. In the area studied, anti-abortion views were quite prevalent and families had generally not discussed abortion as an option for pregnant young women. In contrast, young motherhood was highly visible and had been discussed within families before it became a particular issue for them.
For those who did choose abortion, an important influence was having known someone who had made this decision or who was willing to offer advice.
“I went to see a woman who lives across road from me stepmum, and she were telling me she were pregnant when she were fifteen and she had an abortion, she said that it hurt her, but it were for best reasons.” (Sally)
Some felt that their own circumstances were exceptional enough to make abortion an option despite their more general anti-abortion views.
“ 'Cos I've never ever really thought of me doing something like this, not at all ... not at all. But I've got myself into the situation where I really needed to really help myself cope with what I've already got.” (Diane)
Parents of young women who had chosen to continue with their pregnancies had often been reluctant to give specific advice about which decision to make, preferring to offer general support. However, this offer of support could have an implicit effect on the decision made with young women feeling re-assured that they would not be on their own.
If my Mum and Dad said they wouldn’t support me I think that would have changed my mind, because I wouldn’t have been able to afford to look after her. (Leone)
Boyfriends could also be instrumental in shaping the decision if they’d held or had previously expressed strong views on the topic. However, young men were often happy to let their girlfriend take the decision alone or in association with her parents. In some situations, this could make it very hard for the young woman to choose, as she tried to work out the views of others and to make the ‘right’ decision.
His parents lived at the house, he told his parents, and they sat there constantly the whole 3-4 weeks that I sat there deciding what to do about Ben, they said if you get rid of that child you are murdering my grandchild. (Belinda).
Other young women saw boyfriends as peripheral to both the decision to continue with the pregnancy and to any ongoing support, either because they did not think the relationship was as important as the forthcoming baby or because they already knew they would have support from their parents.
To me, men have some say but not a lot really, they think they've got a big say in it but, they haven't really, not really......(Diane).
The children of young mothers were very quickly included into the extended family. Parents - and especially, but not exclusively, mothers - were very important in integrating the new baby into broader family life. This was most clear where young women continued to live with their parents, during the pregnancy and after the birth of the child. In some cases, the boyfriend moved into the young woman’s family home. But young women who had their own homes and appeared to be outwardly independent could still be very reliant on their family.
“I’ve got my own house and I live with the father, the baby’s dad. I’m still dependent on my Mum. She picks me and my son up in the morning and takes him to Gavin’s mum, so that she has him while I’m at work. So I’m still very dependent on her. She takes me shopping and everything.” (Fiona)
Young women could be ambivalent about family support. On the one hand, they welcomed support and in many cases the pregnancy may not have proceeded without it. On the other hand, they could find the continued dependence on their family restrictive. For some young people, becoming a parent did not represent a move away from the family but a reintegration within it, at a point in time when their peers were forming their own identities outside the home.
This suggests that teenage motherhood may not be an automatic route into adulthood, but rather it forms part of an extended transitional process: the young woman gradually learns to take responsibility for her child while her family seeks an appropriate level of support which might eventually lead to her to reduce her reliance on them.
The interviews found no evidence that young women had deliberately become pregnant to gain more economic independence. For those young mothers who had already left home before they had their babies a level of independence was already established. Their pregnancy was more likely to be accepted by others and they were more likely to be treated as adults by their own family.
Young women who elected to have an abortion went through a similar process of decision-making. Parents, especially mothers, offered support and, for some, their advice was important in making the decision.
She didn't really say anything, she just said, whatever your decision, I'm here for you, I'll stand by you, she said "I'm not going to say anything, so I don't want you to think I'm forcing you but before you make a decision just think about, you know, like, (paying for) your horses, whatever".(Rose)
However, these young women also had to deal with the views of their wider community. For some young women their decision not to continue with their pregnancy had resulted in isolation from their peers and in some cases open hostility.
I told this woman I knew who I worked with and she turned round and called me a murderer. (Lucy).
Discussion in the focus groups between young non-pregnant women illustrated the views of the wider community.
“What would happen if everyone knew at school that somebody had had an abortion?” “You wouldn't be able to go to school.” “You'd get called [names]. You'd probably get hit an’ all wouldn't you.”
Conclusions This research suggests that the decision whether or not to continue with a pregnancy is not an isolated one but is influenced by beliefs held before pregnancy and discussions after conception is confirmed.
This suggests that, to enable young women to make an informed choice, more information is needed about abortion and early motherhood before they are in the position of having to make this decision. This information could be part of sex and relationship education within schools.
There is also a possible opportunity for independent counselling/advice and decision-making support during the early period of the pregnancy. Counselling/advice during this period should be particularly attentive to the likely sources of existing influence relating to wider beliefs, the nature of relationships, the circumstances in which the pregnancy originated, and the involvement of the broader family. But it also needs to recognise that the young woman may need support if her decision goes against the expectations of the wider community.
The fieldwork for the project was undertaken in Doncaster, chosen because of high levels of teenage pregnancy in a context of broad social deprivation. Research was carried out with 41 young women aged who had made the decision either to continue with their pregnancy or to have an abortion whilst aged 18 or under. In order to examine the views on abortion and motherhood in the wider community, focus groups were also held with young women who were not pregnant and young men who were not fathers. In addition, a group of parents were interviewed individually. The research took place between 1997 and 1999.
The full report, Teenage pregnancy and choice: Abortion or motherhood: influences on the decision by Sharon Tabberer, Christine Hall, Andrew Webster and Shirley Prendergast, is published for the Foundation by YPS (ISBN 1 902633 xx x, price £xx.xx).
It is available from York Publishing Services Ltd, 64 Hallfield Road, Layerthorpe, York YO31 7ZQ, Tel: 01904 430033, Fax: 01904 430868, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Embargo: for publication after 00.01hrs Wednesday 15th Nov. 2000
Your friends talk about pregnancy and abortion…and what you'd do…but I've never known anyone to be pregnant and have an abortion.
Young woman interviewed in Doncaster.
Opposition to abortion among families and the local community are among the important factors that shape teenagers’ decisions to continue with unplanned pregnancies. The ‘visibility’ of young mothers and babies in neighbourhoods with high levels of teenage pregnancy is another major influence, according to research for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.
The study – carried out in Doncaster where teenage pregnancy rates are among the highest in Britain – suggests that those who become young mothers do not generally consider abortion as an option. But it also finds that teenagers have few sources of impartial advice during the crucial 7 to 14 weeks after pregnancy is confirmed.
The ‘qualitative’ research combined in-depth interviews with 41 young women who had either decided to continue with a pregnancy or seek an abortion with focus groups with other young people and parents. It found that:Almost all the teenagers had been shocked to discover they were pregnant. There was no evidence that any of them had deliberately become pregnant to secure economic independence or housing. By the time their pregnancy had been confirmed, young women often had only a few weeks to decide whether to continue or seek an abortionYoung women were primarily influenced by their own, pre-existing views and the attitudes and experiences of those around them. Anti-abortion views were quite prevalent in the study area and families had generally not discussed abortion as an option, Young motherhood was highly visible in the locality, with the result that young women and their families had often discussed teenage pregnancy before it became an issue for them. Boyfriends were sometimes influential in shaping the decision if they held strong views. However, many young fathers appeared to have let their girlfriends take the decision alone, or with their parents. For the few who had chosen abortion, knowing someone who had made the same decision, or was willing to offer advice had been an important influence. Families, especially the young women’s own mothers, often played a crucial part in supporting teenagers who gave birth and in ensuring that mother and baby became an accepted part of the extended family.
Sharon Tabberer, a Research Fellow at the University of York, and co-author of the study, said:
Our research suggests that information about abortion and early motherhood should be made more available so that young women are better informed. It also identifies a need for independent counselling, advice and support for teenagers from the time they first suspect they are pregnant. We welcome the steps that the government’s Teenage Pregnancy Unit and the pilot Sure Start Plus programme are taking along these lines.
Continuing support should be available whatever young women decide, but not least if their choice goes against expectation s in the wider community.
Teenage pregnancy and choice: Abortion of motherhood: influences on the decision by Sharon Tabberer, Christine Hall, Andrew Webster and Shirley Prendergast is published for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation by York Publishing Services, 64 Hallfield Road, Layerthorpe, York YO31 7ZQ (01904 4300033) price £12.95 plus £2.00 p&p. A summary of findings from the report is available, free of charge, from JRF, The Homestead, 40 Water End, York YO30 6WP or from www.jrf.org.uk
For further information, contact:
(author) 01904 434742
David Utting, (JRF Head of Media Relations) 020-7278 9665