Listen: Why childbearing is so dangerous for many young teens

New laws criminalizing abortion in many conservative states are expected to increase birth rates among teenage mothers, whose bodies are often not built for safe childbirth. On this episode of NPR’s “Weekend Edition Sunday,” KHN senior correspondent Sarah Varney talks with host Ayesha Rasco about the dangers of pregnancy for teens.

Varney shared his reporting from a recent trip to Arkansas, a state tied with Mississippi for the nation’s highest teenage birth rate. Arkansas has the highest pregnancy-related mortality rate for women in the United States, nearly double the national average. and the third-highest infant mortality rate in the state due to the large number of teenage births.

Adolescents are at risk of low birth-weight babies, high blood pressure during pregnancy, preeclampsia and permanent uterine damage, among other complications.

“When she has her first period, she’s able to get pregnant, but that doesn’t mean she’s able to have a baby,” said Dr. Delys Walker, director of global health research at the Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health at the University of California-San Francisco.

Arkansas’ trigger ban on abortion took effect the day the Supreme Court struck down a longstanding federal right to abortion in June. For teenagers seeking medical care to end a pregnancy, the closest abortion clinic is now 400 miles northeast of Little Rock, Illinois, and a six-hour drive.

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