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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

On Teens, Mental Health, and Reproductive Rights

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Irina Raicu

Irina Raicu (@IEthics) is the director of the Internet Ethics program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Views are her own.

Many state and federal legislators have been expressing concerns recently about teens—especially teen girls. They point to the effects of social media. They point to the growing problem of mental health issues and suicide among teens. They are right to be concerned. Some of those legislators, however, are also taking steps that will likely worsen the mental health problems among teens: implementing abortion bans and other abortion-related restrictions in the wake of the overturning of Roe v Wade.

As researches have long been pointing out, restrictions on access to legal abortion have negative consequences for women’s health, and prompt many, in desperation, to turn to unsafe procedures.

It's useful to consider, in this context, a study conducted by the Guttmacher Institute in 2018, titled “What Are People Looking for When They Google ‘Self-Abortion’?” Even before the current efforts to criminalize abortion access, the study’s findings suggested that "among those who participated in [the] survey, online searches for information on self-abortion may be driven by adolescents and young adults facing an unintended pregnancy.”

New legal restrictions are likely to drive even more adolescents to search for abortion information online. Unfortunately, the current ecosystem of the internet is likely to betray their trust. The implications of the long-recognized ethical issues of privacy violations and misinformation online are particularly striking in this context, and will impact vulnerable teens the most.

Back in June, Santa Clara Law Professor Michelle Oberman and I co-authored a piece expanding on this topic, titled “The Teenage Victims of Abortion Bans.”

Lawmakers and others concerned about the mental health of teens should not disregard this aspect of the problem.

Photo: "Texting" by Jhaymesisviphotography is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Sep 8, 2022

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