CONTEXT: Swedish law permits abortion at the request of a pregnant woman until the 18th week of gestation. However, the extent to which the decision is truly the woman's own is subject to debate; women are often influenced, directly or indirectly, by the attitudes of their partners, family and friends or by social norms.

METHODS: Individual in-depth interviews about the pregnancy and the abortion decision were conducted 3–4 weeks postabortion with 25 women aged 16–20 at different periods in 2003, 2005 and 2007. Interviews were audio-taped, transcribed verbatim and analyzed using latent content analysis.

RESULTS: The main reasons for unplanned pregnancy were underestimation of pregnancy risk and inconsistent contraceptive use. Pregnancy prevention was perceived as the woman's responsibility. The abortion decision was accompanied by mixed emotions, and was seen as a natural yet difficult choice. Social norms and the negative attitudes of family and friends strongly influenced the decision. Partners and parents were regarded as the most important sources of support. After the abortion, the women felt pressured by contraceptive counselors to use highly effective contraceptives despite their previous negative experiences or worries about side effects.

CONCLUSIONS: Swedish teenagers' basic right to decide whether to have an abortion may be limited by societal norms and disapproval of teenage childbearing. Given the perception that women are responsible for contraception, programs need to emphasize that pregnancy prevention is a shared responsibility; greater efforts to include males in prevention practices are needed.