The Affects of Legalized Abortion on High School Graduation Rates

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Updated: Mar 28, 2022
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The legalization of terminating a pregnancy in the United Sates has been one of the greatest and most controversial debates in history starting as early as the 1900s. Decriminalizing abortion was thought to affect many aspects of our society; one of the main aspects being our economy through the increase of high school graduates. High school drop out rates have proven to be directly connected to the legalization of abortion as many teens choose to drop out of school to either stay home and take care of their child or work to provide for their child; affecting both boys’ and girls’ ability to finish secondary school.

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While abortion has since been made legal in all 50 states following the Roe v. Wade case in 1973, parental consent still remains a large factor in many states. As most high school enrollees are under 18, the parental consent restriction in 37 out of 50 states can still prevent them from terminating a pregnancy and thus potentially preventing them from finishing high school. About one third of all girls who drop out of high school say that the main reason for this is either pregnancy or parenthood. High school drop out rates due to pregnancy vary by many factors: different ethnic groups, history, districts and social classes, parental consent by state, and overall family support. Sufficient data shows that the legalization of abortion has proven to increase high school graduation rates in the past couple of years for both boys and girls, as there is typically a shift in focus from parenthood to getting their diplomas.

In order to recognize the affects that abortion has had on graduation rates in the United States, it is crucial to understand the history and how abortion rights and laws have gotten to where they are today. The Roe v. Wade case in 1973 was the turning point for the United States with regards to abortion, viability, and right to privacy while simultaneously decriminalized abortion in all 50 states. Prior to the Row v. Wade case, terminating a pregnancy was completely prohibited in 30 states, allowed in the case of rape in 1 state, permitted in the case of danger to woman’s health in 2 states, legal in the case of danger to woman’s health, rape or incest, or likely damaged fetus in 13 states, and completely lawful upon request in the remaining 4 states. The percent of women who graduated from high school and enrolled in college grew from twenty-five percent in 1970 (before Roe v. Wade) to thirty percent in 1980 (after Roe v. Wade). The percent of women who went on to finish their college degrees grew from eight percent in 1970 to 13.6 percent in 1980. In 1973 the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision that state laws making abortions (with exception to the mother’s life) illegal are completely unconstitutional. The Supreme Court supported the argument that the criminalization of terminating a pregnancy violated a woman’s right to privacy and therefor violated the Fourth Amendment in which it sates that “nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” A total of 46 states were affected by the ruling of Roe v. Wade, as all states now had to decriminalize the termination of a pregnancy but could set their own regulations in regards to how far into a pregnancy a woman could abort. While the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, society norms and ideals still stopped many from moving forward with having abortions. Today the country is split between pro-life groups, pro-choice groups, and a mix of both and even though many Americans still believe that abortion is completely unethical and wrong, it has become a more commonly accepted idea in the last two decades.

The high school drop out rate in the United States has drastically decreased since the 1900s and continues to slowly decrease every year. From 2001 to 2009 the national graduation rate increased by over three percent. As the graduation rates increased, the number of schools with graduation rates of sixty percent or less decreased to 1,550 in 2010 from 1,634 in 2009 and 2,007 in 2002. While it is true that more and more students are earning their high school diplomas every year, many students still eventually drop out before finishing their studies. Each year, in our country, over one million students drop out of secondary schools. While pregnancy and parenthood are two of the main reason teens never finish high school, it is certainly not the only reason. Some of the main reasons for which students decide not to continue their studies are because of academic failure, financial difficulties, mental illness, drug use, disability and pregnancy. While pregnancy and parenthood isn’t the only reason that one million students drop out every year, it is the number one reason after academic failure. Statistics show that in 2010 the birth rate was forty-four percent lower than it was in 1991 meaning that as abortion regulations changed throughout the states, more girls were given the option to terminate their pregnancies in high school. Even though abortion is now legal and more commonly accepted in the United States, abortion rates are at an all time low. In 2010 the teenage (women aged 15-19) abortion rate was 14.7 abortions per 1,000. This is the lowest it has been since abortion was legalized in 1973 and sixty-six percent lower than its highest rate in 1988. The correlation between decreased birth rates and low abortion rates is definitely not coincidental. Similarly, there is a direct connection between education and birth rates. Studies show that teens that are better educated are less likely to get pregnant while in high school and therefor lower the abortion rate. This could be because teens are much more educated about contraceptives and the difficulties that come with getting pregnant at a very young age than they were decades ago. While education is key to solving the high school drop out crisis, there are other factors that are harder to control. It is a proven fact that high school students who live in good socio-economic school districts have access to better resources such as sex education, contraceptives, and typically have a much better support system to guide them.

It’s surely no surprise that schools in low socio-economic districts are much more likely to experience higher levels of poverty and produce less high school graduates than schools in high socio-economic districts throughout the United States. While some states are overall wealthier than others, every state has school districts that are not as well off as others. Connecticut is a great example of this as it is one of the wealthiest states on the east coast with a high average graduation rate of about 87.4 percent. This is also one of the highest graduation rates in the whole country. While the state average is fairly high, it doesn’t mean that a high socio-economic population surrounds every school district in the state. Even though there are wealthy areas like Darien and Greenwich, there are also towns and cities within Connecticut that fall on the other side of the spectrum. Some of these towns include Hartford, New Haven, Bridgeport, and Waterbury. As these school districts experience the most poverty in Connecticut, they also experience the highest amount of students who drop out of high school. Studies showed that in 2008 the top 25 low-achieving school districts experienced a total drop out amount of 225,374 teens from their secondary schools. In the same year, these 25 low-achieving school districts saw roughly around 70,000 births to high school teenagers. Lisa Shuger, the author of Teen Pregnancy & High School Dropout: What Communities Can Do to Address These Issues, mentions that women in higher socio-economic classes have a much better chance of giving birth to a child who will eventually graduate from high school. Shuger goes on to talk about how socio-economic classes play a role in raising a child at a young age.


The author states, “Lower socio-economic status women have difficulty paying the direct cost of raising children while higher socio-economic women face a much greater opportunity cost if caring for children makes the mother forgo their high wages in the labor market” (Shuger, 2012). In other words, income and wealth are the biggest factors to take into consideration when having a child. The cost and time of raising a child at such a young age is the reason why so many people in low socio-economic situations, who become pregnant, are forced to drop out of their high schools. The sad reality of falling pregnant in high school is that very little evidence shows teen fathers providing for their children financially even though most want to be involved in other ways. On average the cost of raising a child is $233,000. Studies show that fathers who are not involved in the life of the child can pay less than $800 in child support every year. Data has also proven that a child growing up in a household without a father is much more likely to become part of a low socio-economic class. Unfortunately, this becomes an ongoing cycle, as poverty-stricken individuals are at a much higher risk of becoming pregnant. In order for underprivileged teens to be able to support their child they would realistically have to drop out of high school and start working full time. Studies have also shown the direct correlation between the low socio-economic class and certain ethnicities. The populations with the highest amount of teen pregnancies have been recognized to be African-Americans and Hispanics. Because Hispanics and African-Americans are the ethnicity with the greatest amount of teen pregnancies it’s no surprise that they have a much higher high school drop out rate than whites and Asians.

Even though teen pregnancy rates are at an all time low, data shows that Hispanic and African-American women are the two ethnicities that experience the most amount of high school drop outs as a result of pregnancy. White Americans have experienced a fifty-six percent decline in teen pregnancies from 1990 to 2010. Even though the pregnancy rate among African-American teens girls also fell fifty-six percent from 1990 to 2010, it’s still twice as high as whites. Similarly, the pregnancy rate for Hispanic women fell fifty-one percent during this same time period but also still remained twice the rate for white Americans. Kathryn Kost, the author of U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions, 2010: National and State Trends by Age, Race and Ethnicity, says, “Wide differences in birth and abortion rates also persist across racial and ethnic groups. The birthrate in 2010 for non-Hispanic white teenagers was about half the rate for black teenagers and less than half the rate for Hispanic teenagers.

The abortion rate among black teenagers was more than three times the rate for non-Hispanic whites while the rate among Hispanic teenagers was almost twice that rate” (Kost, 2014). It’s not surprising to see that the birth rate for Hispanics was the highest compared to African Americans and whites and the abortion was the lowest compared to how many girls got pregnant. As a Hispanic woman this statement isn’t surprising as the most common religion among Hispanics is Catholicism and abortion is very highly frowned upon in the Hispanic community. It’s also not surprising to see that white women are the least likely to get pregnant and the abortion rate is also low. Since whites are less likely to be a part of low socio-economic status compared to African Americans and Hispanics, it makes sense that they experience less teen pregnancies as socio-economic status and teen pregnancy is directly related. Data shows that New York is the state in which the largest numbers of African Americans reside. Similarly, New York law doesn’t require pregnant teens to notify their parents of their decisions to terminate a pregnancy. It’s no coincidence that states that have no law requiring pregnant teens to have parental involvement are also the states with the highest high school graduation rates.

While Roe v. Wade was the key part in making abortion legal in all 50 states, each state still has the power to set restrictions regarding parental consent of a minor and how long a woman is allowed to wait before they can no longer terminate a pregnancy. In thirteen states there are no laws about parental consent, in one state you need to inform both parents of your decision, in sixteen states you need to inform at least one parent, and in twenty-one states you need consent from one or both parents. It is also possible to get a judge’s permission to go forward with an abortion without parental consent or involvement in certain instances. It is no coincidence that the states in which a minor needs one or both parents to consent or be informed about the termination of their pregnancy are also the states in which high school drop out rates are the highest. Louisiana and Georgia, for example, have two of the lowest high school graduation rates in the country and also require minors get parental consent from one parent in order to terminate a pregnancy. Mississippi, who is also one of the leading states in high school dropouts, requires minors to get consent from both parents before moving forward with an abortion.

States like Connecticut and New Jersey, on the other hand, who don’t require any parental involvement to terminate a pregnancy, are also two of the states with the lowest high school drop out rates and highest graduation rates. Kathryn Kost found that in 2010 the states with the highest teenage birthrates were Mississippi, New Mexico, Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma. This data shows that Mississippi is one of the states with the highest high school drop out rates and highest teenage birthrates. It’s no surprise that Mississippi has high birthrates and low graduation rates as they just recently enacted the strongest pro-life law in the United States. Similarly, Kost found that the states with the lowest birthrates were New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut and New Jersey. Her studies also show that New Jersey was one of the states with the highest teenage abortion rates. This data proves that Connecticut and New Jersey are states with the highest graduation rates and lowest birthrates with New Jersey having one of the highest teenage abortion rates. Typically, states in which the majority of the population is pro-life tend to make it more challenging for a minor to terminate a pregnancy through parental consent requirements. These states are also home to the least amount of high school graduates. While the Supreme Court’s choice to decriminalize abortion in 1973 has given millions of teens the opportunity to get their high school diplomas, the freedom of choice was threatened for millions of teens in Texas.

Texas tried to re-write history this year as member of the House of Representatives proposed a bill that would criminalize abortion and charge those who had abortions or performed abortions to be charged with assault or criminal homicide. This bill would also make it completely impossible to terminate a pregnancy in the case of rape or if the pregnancy puts the mother’s health at risk. Kost’s evidence shows that Texas is already one of the states with the highest birthrates and lowest graduation rates. Passing this type of bill would surely increase the amount of teens traveling to surrounding states to receive an abortion or continue to decrease the overall gradation rate of the state. While this bill was quickly shut down, it proves that the idea of terminating a pregnancy is still unacceptable to millions of Americans.

This case also shows the types of abortion bans that have been proposed throughout decades and were actually taken into consideration. It is hard to believe that this type of bill would ever be passed as it strongly violates the Fourteenth Amendment for millions of girls nationwide. Making abortions illegal once again would also increase the amount of teen deaths due to unsafe and unsupervised abortions. This was one of the biggest issues the United States faced before Roe v. Wade in 1973. The approval of a bill allowing the re-criminalization of terminating a pregnancy would also prove to be detrimental to the United States economy as many more high school teens will have no option but to drop of school in the case of a pregnancy or parenthood or risk their lives through an unsafe abortion. While the thought of making the termination of a pregnancy illegal may seem completely unrealistic, many states, like Mississippi, Texas, and Iowa, are finding loopholes in the law as they are implementing state restrictions that make getting an abortion extremely difficult for women.

Although pregnancy isn’t the only reason for high school dropouts, it is certainly one of the most common. This is especially true for school districts located in low socio-economic communities. Shuger’s studies show that low number of high school graduates can seriously impact the overall United States economy. If every teen earned their high school diploma in 2011 the economy would have greatly benefited, as it would have brought nearly $154 billon in added income. In 2013, about sixty-five percent of high school graduates went on to enroll in college. If thousands of teens drop out if high school due to pregnancy or parenthood, the chances of them enrolling into post-secondary institutions greatly diminish. Research also shows that over a course of a lifetime, a college graduate will likely produce on average over $1 million more than a college dropout. Teen pregnancies and strict abortion restrictions are playing a significant role in our economy. High school drop out rates due to pregnancy or parenthood vary by many factors: different ethnic groups, history, districts and social classes, parental consent by state, and support but overall, the legalization of abortion has increased high school graduation rates in the past couple of years for both boys and girls. It’s hard to imagine a world where the termination of a pregnancy is re-criminalized but every year we inch closer and closer to this reality as states continue to enforce stricter and stricter restrictions.

Works Cited

  1. Berg, Nathan, and Teresa D. Nelson. “Pregnancy and Dropout: Effects of Family, Neighborhood, and High School Characteristics on Girls’ Fertility and Dropout Status.” Population Research and Policy Review, vol. 35, no. 6, 2016, pp. 757–789., doi:10.1007/s11113-016-9410-4.
  2. DeRosa, Molli. “Low Graduation Rates Tied To Absenteeism, Poverty In Urban Schools.” Connecticut Health Investigative Team, 18 Aug. 2017,
  3. GREENHOUSE, LINDA, and REVA B. SIEGEL. “Before (and After) Roe v. Wade: New
  4. Questions About Backlash.” The Yale Law Journal, vol. 120, no. 8, 2011, pp. 2028–2087. JSTOR,
  5. Jacobs, Julia. “Failed Texas Bill Would Have Made Death Penalty Possible in Abortion Cases.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 11 Apr. 2019,
  6. Kost, Kathryn. “U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions, 2010: National and State Trends by Age, Race and Ethnicity.” Guttmacher Institute, 7 Sept. 2017,
  7. Miller, Tony. “11 Facts About High School Dropout Rates.”, 2015,
  8. Parenthood, Planned. “Parental Consent & Notification Laws | Teen Abortion Laws.” Planned Parenthood, 2019,
  9. Shehan, Constance. “How Roe v Wade Changed the Lives of American Women.” News, 9 July 2018,
  10. Shuger, L. (2012). Teen Pregnancy and High School Dropout: What Communities are
  11. Doing to Address These Issues. Washington, DC: The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and America’s Promise Alliance.
  12. Whitaker, Stephan. “The Impact of Legalized Abortion on High School Graduation through Selection and Composition.” Economics of Education Review, vol. 30, no. 2, 2011, pp. 228–246., doi:10.1016/j.econedurev.2010.09.001.
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The Affects of Legalized Abortion on High School Graduation Rates. (2021, Mar 05). Retrieved from