Roe v Wade: Teens asking for birth control 'in case they get raped' as US states outlaw abortion

Abortion rights campaigners demonstrating against the Supreme Court decision. Credit: AP

Teenagers in the US, including many who are not yet sexually active, are increasingly asking their doctors for birth control to prevent an unwanted pregnancy after a sexual assault as states begin to ban or severely limit abortion in the wake of the reversal of Roe V Wade.

Doctors have reported a rise in the trend of teenagers seeking contraception since the US Supreme Court decided in June to overturn the 1973 ruling that established the right to safe and legal abortion at any point before a foetus can survive outside the womb.

Dr Judith Simms-Cendan, a paediatric-adolescent gynaecologist in Miami, where state law does not provide exceptions for rape or incest after 15 weeks, said patients have told her they "need some birth control in case I get raped".

While teenagers were moving to more effective long-acting forms of birth control before the ruling, according to Laura Lindberg, a professor at Rutgers University’s School of Public Health in New Jersey, the numbers asking their doctors has accelerated since the Supreme Court scrapped the constitutional right to abortion.

Her research found the number of 15 to 19 year olds using those methods rose to 15% during the period 2015 to 2019, up from 3% during the 2006 to 2010 period.

While no national data is available for the months since Roe was overturned, Prof Lindberg, said “major ripple effects” have to be expected from the loss of abortion access.

Other doctors reported a rise in couples interested in contraception.

Dr Peggy Stager said in the state of Ohio, where a judge this month blocked a ban on virtually all abortions, requests for repeat contraceptive prescriptions have increased 30% to 40% since Roe v Wade was overturned.

Recently, she talked to a college-bound student who was not sexually active but decided to get an IUD (intrauterine device) anyway.

Adismarys Abreu joined the throng of teens rushing to their doctors as states began to ban or severely limit abortion. Credit: AP

“She was real clear: ‘I want to have a great four years without any worry,’” Dr Stager said. “And that’s a change.”

In Missouri, among the first states in the country to effectively ban abortions at any point in pregnancy, Dr David Eisenberg, an associate professor at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said he has also seen a rise in university-bound teenagers asking for contraception.

“Fear is an amazing motivator,” said Dr Eisenberg. “They understand the consequence of a contraceptive failure might mean they become a parent because they might not be able to access an abortion.”

On the day the Supreme Court ruled against Roe, twice as many birth control questions as normal poured into Roo, Planned Parenthood’s online chatbot aimed at teens.

Online birth control appointments also skyrocketed that day — up 150% from a typical day, with an even-larger 375% surge for people wanting IUD, said Julia Bennett, director of digital education and learning strategy for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Several weeks after the ruling, birth control appointments were up about 20% by mid-July, although the data is not broken down by age group.

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There is growing interest exists even in states like North Carolina, where abortion remains legal but the Legislature is conservative and women and girls fear for their future rights.

“I’m definitely not ready to be pregnant," said Adismarys Abreu, 16, who had Nexplanon — a reversible, matchstick-sized contraceptive — implanted in her arm in August which will prevent pregnancy for five years. Her home state of Florida bans most abortions after 15 weeks, and not having that option is “such a scary thought,” she said.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen with the laws in that time period,” said Abreu. “Having this already in my arm, it makes me feel so much safer.”