The practice of abortion within the adolescent population is a particularly important issue in Latin America and the Caribbean because of its high incidence. Moreover, certain authors assume that this practice may continue to occur (as already described in Chapter 4 – Socio-demographic Profile of Women and Reasons for Resorting to Induced Abortion) in conditions unsafe for women’s life and health, particularly among the youngest with fewest resources, given the greater barriers to their accessing health services. Current reproductive health conditions for adolescents, conditions which include the events that surround pregnancy, are partly shaped by the forms of demographic and cultural transition experienced in countries in the region (Oliveira, 2000; United Nations Population Fund, 2000).
At the same time, several authors agree that pregnancy, abortion and parenthood are events that adolescents and young people should postpone and not experience until adulthood. This is due to the fact that adolescence (as it is conceived of nowadays, particularly in developed countries) is regarded as a transition stage between childhood and adulthood, during which one acquires knowledge, values and skills that prepare one to assume future responsibilities. It is during this stage that some of the problems and shortages affecting societies are most intensely expressed, such as social inequity, gender violence, and insufficient access to economic resources and health services. Adolescence is also the period of development of the personality and consolidation of the values that will define individuals’ sexual behaviors and attitudes as well as the degree of responsibility and independence they will achieve as adults. (Libertad and Reyes Díaz, 2003).
As Núñez points out (2001): “There is a great need to understand the sexuality of adolescents, particularly their own perceptions and beliefs about their bodies, the way they establish the first relationships between teenage men and women, the roles and responsibilities of each vis-à-vis pregnancy prevention, their attitudes towards various contraceptive methods and their future plans as a couple once they begin a sexual relationship. Inadequate understanding of these factors by many adolescent couples leads to unwanted pregnancy and often, abortion” (p.108).
The concept of “adolescence” is a “cultural construction subject to the variation of environments and contexts” (Villarreal, 1998, quoted in Guzmán et. al., 2001) that thus may be different depending on the particularities of each case. There are, for example, societies and groups, mainly in non-western cultures, in which girls and boys acquire adult obligations without undergoing what is commonly understood as adolescence. In these contexts, marriage and pregnancy among this population group are not regarded as undesirable. Adolescence pregnancy is not regarded as a problem in itself either, but rather the natural result of the lifestyle of the particular society.
The biological changes that take place during puberty –the stage during which a person acquires the capacity to reproduce– are inherent to each person. This period of life coincides with the culturally-constructed period of adolescence, which, for analytical and operative purposes is regarded as the age range from 10 to 19, or 15 to 19. Nevertheless, as mentioned earlier, adolescence can also be experienced in very different ways. For women, their situation regarding the trajectory of a pregnancy during this stage will depend in large part on whether they are legally or consensually married or not; their level of educational attainment, and whether they live alone or with their parents, relatives or other persons with whom they form social networks.
In a qualitative study on the influence of social networks among young women in urban areas in Mexico, the author states that the weaker the links between members of the social network to which a woman belongs, the less her chance of safely interrupting her pregnancy. The support she obtains from this network in the event of an abortion will also tend to be less. It usually happens, the author adds, that although a person may not approve of abortion, he may be willing to support a woman and help her to interrupt a pregnancy if he has an affective link with her. In her conclusions, the author points out that social networks are crucial in a context of clandestine abortion, but she also states that when a woman wants to resort to this practice, this support may be selective, due to the stigmatization and conservatism that influence the perception of abortion (Villa Torres, 2005)