Overturning Roe v. Wade Adds to the Youth Mental Health Crisis

On June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court of the United States voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, reversing nearly 50 years of constitutional protection for reproductive rights. The Jed Foundation (JED) has been working for over two decades to prevent suicide and protect the mental health of the nation’s teens and young adults, and we believe that this ruling directly undermines those efforts and puts youth at greater risk. 

As of today, abortion is banned in seven states–and more than half of cisgender women of reproductive age live in states where it is expected to be banned, according to The New York Times. Frank C. Worrell, President of the American Psychological Association (APA), says it is a situation that will begin “deliberately pushing people into a psychological crisis.” 

This comes at a time when youth mental health is already in a state of “crisis,” according to the U.S. Surgeon General. One in three young adults between ages 18 and 25 has experienced a mental, emotional, or behavioral health issue in the past year, while suicide is the third-leading cause of death for those ages 15 to 24. It is important to note that, according to the Guttmacher Institute, the majority of people having abortions in the United States are in their 20s. 

The APA states that people who are denied access to abortions demonstrate higher levels of anxiety, lower life satisfaction, and lower self-esteem (as opposed to those who are able to obtain abortions). In comparison, 95% of people do not regret the choice to terminate their pregnancies. 

The Supreme Court’s decision will be especially detrimental to marginalized groups:

  • Black people will be disproportionately targeted: They are more likely to live in states subject to abortion bans, and they are five times more likely to pursue abortions than white people (due to reasons such as difficulty accessing contraception, likelihood of being uninsured, and higher rates of both pregnancy complications and maternal death, among other reasons), according to the Washington Post
  • It also disproportionately impacts LGBTQ individuals: 22.8% of lesbians and 27% of bisexual women have had abortions, compared to 15% of heterosexual women, according to NBC News. It is important to note that the decision does not only impact cisgender women, but also transgender men and nonbinary individuals. Due to abortion-access barriers and fear of mistreatment, upon becoming pregnant, a third of transgender people have considered terminating their pregnancies themselves, and 1 in 10 have made an attempt to do so. According to the Trevor Project, 70% of LGBTQ youth state that efforts to restrict abortion access gave them stress or anxiety.
  • The decision will target individuals living at or below the poverty line: About 75% of those who have an abortion are low-income, and they are likely to already have one or more children. One way that trauma manifests for those who are forced to keep unwanted pregnancies is through economic hardship and financial insecurity, which is not only experienced by the parents and caregivers, but by their offspring–creating a generational burden. 
  • It will harm individuals coping with intimate partner violence: Those who are forced to give birth may find themselves trapped in dangerous domestic situations where they are bound, through the pregnancy and resulting offspring, to an abusive partner and volatile living situation. The APA states that there is a high correlation between unwanted pregnancies and interpersonal violence. 

Additionally, the reversal of Roe v. Wade may create specific obstacles for young people. It is estimated that between 25% and 50% of individuals capable of getting pregnant will need to travel up to 200 miles to obtain a legal abortion. Young people may be without a driver’s license, unable to miss school, or without the support system to accomplish such a tremendous task–especially while pregnant and under duress. 

On June 24, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote in his concurring opinion that the court should also consider reversing: the decision that grants married couples access to contraception; the decision that struck down sodomy laws; and the decision that legalized same-sex marriages. According to the 2019 U.S. Census, over 190,000 children under 18 live with same-sex parents and will now need to worry about potential ramifications for their family unit. Countless more young people are likely concerned about what all three opinions might mean for themselves, loved ones, family members, and friends. It is understandable for anyone to feel targeted and persecuted at this time. These are relevant, rational, big, and difficult emotions for young people to manage–especially when there are no easy answers to provide.

Right now, young people need more support than ever. Overturning Roe v. Wade has added to the significant stressors that were already impacting their day-to-day lives, as well as their overall physical, emotional, and mental health. The Jed Foundation encourages adults to reach out to the young people in their lives and make their support known. In the wake of this decision, it is even more important for every caregiver, educator, and role model to play an active role in establishing and upholding a community of caring around teens and young adults.

In addition to providing its own staff with supplemental funding that is specifically allotted for out-of-state travel, as needed, for reproductive health and gender-affirming care, JED is committed to being vigilant and vocal about the vise that will continue tightening around the wellness potentiality of our nation’s youth while stripped of bodily autonomy and barred from their reproductive rights. 

To help start conversations and manage additional stress at this time, please explore our Resource Center.

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