Begun, S., Combs, K. M., Schwan, K., Torrie, M., & Bender, K. (in press). “I know they would kill me”: Abortion attitudes and experiences among youth experiencing homelessness. Youth & Society, 52(8), 1457-1478. doi: 10.1177/0044118X18820661
A significant amount of studies show that the most difficult challenge associated with youth homelessness is making decisions surrounding pregnancy. Compared to youth who are housed, pregnancy rates within the homeless youth population is 4-8 times higher. Although, a significant amount of research has been conducted on the experiences of pregnancy among this group, a gap continues to exist in the research on abortion related experiences of homeless youth. A phenomenological study was conducted to investigate decision-making processes, abortion attitudes and day-to-day experiences of homeless youth in the United States with a focus on how broader social contexts and social networks influence abortion decisions.
- A qualitative study with 23 homeless youth discovered that 30% of homeless women had abortions and 58% of homeless women chose to give birth.
- The lack of affordable health care, lack of resources, and lack of support increases self-induced abortion decisions among homeless women.
- Common self-induced strategies include substance abuse, using coat hangers and sharp objects, planned physical abuse, and drinking bleach.
- These strategies are commonly used, especially if they have worked for other women in their network.
- Some homeless women decide to have abortions to prevent their child from experiencing neglect or abuse as they experienced in their childhood.
- Some pregnancies are terminated from physical violence, especially if both partners do not agree on having a child or not.
- Using a criterion sampling design, 30 youth above 18, regardless of gender were selected from a homeless shelter in Denver, Colorado
- 53.3% of the sample were women, 33.3% were men and 13.3% identified as transgender. A majority of the sample identified as White, heterosexual and were an average of 19 years old.
- Participants were compensated a $25 gift card to a food vendor upon interview completion.
- The interview guides followed a semi-structured format and lasted 45-60 minutes.
- At the end of each interview, participants were provided with a voluntary survey that included sociodemographic questions and questions about their length of homelessness, if they experienced foster care, and the cities they lived in after leaving their homes.
Discussion and findings
Four common themes that arose in the interviews:
- a) Reasons for abortion seeking:
- A majority of participants explained that their relationship status played a role in deciding to get an abortion. Some respondents were afraid that their partners would leave them if they kept the baby, which influenced them to abort.
- b) Social network influences on youth’s abortion decision making:
- Participants who feared getting an abortion discussed that their family would cut all ties with them if they carried out the process. Some participants mentioned that they feared their partners perpetuating violence against them if they decided to abort.
- c)Abortion attitudes:
- Two third of participants discussed pro-choice views on abortion while one third of the sample held negative attitudes towards abortion.
- d)Self-induced abortions among homeless youth:
- Respondents discussed that self-induced abortions occur due to a lack of financial support in receiving a formal abortion, the stigma associated with attaining an abortion, lack of knowledge on where to safely abort, and fear of abandonment from a partner.
- Consistent with previous research, the commonly used self-induction strategies that homeless youth engaged in were substance abuse, planned physical abuse and using sharp objects to carry out the abortion.
- Participants may have experienced a social desirability bias, which may impact the amount of information that youth chose to share about their abortion decision–making matters.
- The sociodemographic form should include asking the youth about their abortion/involvement history for improved analysis purposes.
- Only service seeking youth were involved in the study, which impacts generalizability
- Policies should be created across institutions to ensure that service providers understand the importance of providing homeless youth with information and resources related to reproductive and sexual health
- Communication strategies should also be set in place so youth can share this type of education with individuals in their social network