Saturday, May 06, 2006

Contraceptive Use Down, Abortion Rates and Unplanned Pregnancy

The New York Times published an article yesterday, Use of Contraceptive Drops, Slowing Decline of Abortion Rate." The piece is based on a new report from the Guttmacher Institute, which found that the percentage of women trying not to get pregnant but not using contraception increased from 7% in 1994 to 11% in 2001. The tie between contraceptive use and abortions is very loosely made in the NYTimes piece, which says,

"Guttmacher and other groups that work to prevent unintended pregnancy credit growing contraceptive use starting in the early 1980's for the big drop in the abortion rate, which is now at its lowest since Roe v. Wade established a constitutional right to abortion in 1973.

Slightly more women use contraception now than did in 1982, when 12 percent did not. But the decline in abortion seems to have leveled off. While the abortion rate fell an average of 3.4 percent annually in the early 1990's, it declined an average of just 0.8 percent from 2000 to 2002."


Essentially, they're saying that abortion rates have stopped declining as contraceptive use has declined, although the full report indicates the issue is quite a bit more complex than the NYTimes article describes.

The Guttmacher report the NYTimes references is "Abortion in Women's Lives. (PDF)" Some notable quotes and findings from the report:
  • "The typical woman spends five years pregnant, postpartum or trying to get pregnant and 30 years avoiding pregnancy." (p.8)
    This sort of blows my mind. I was aware of it, but this sentence really brings into focus how we as women spend over half of our lives trying to avoid pregnancy, for assorted reasons.
  • "Each year, more than six million American women—one in every 10 women of reproductive age (15–44)—become pregnant, and almost half of those pregnancies are unintentional." (p.8)
  • "although unplanned pregnancy affects all types of American women, a greater proportion of women from certain groups than from others become pregnant unintentionally: women of color and those who are young, unmarried or poor." (p.8)
  • Table 1-1 (p.9) lists the reasons women cite for obtaining abortion. They were: concern for/responsibility to other individuals (74%); cannot afford a baby now (73%); a baby would interfere with school/employment/ability to care for dependents (69%); would be a single parent/having relationship problems (48%); has completed childbearing (38%). Presumably women could choose more than one response. I think this is particularly interesting, because it illustrates how existing family burdens/lack of support affect women's reproductive choices.
  • "Although women who have abortions and women who have children are often perceived as two distinct groups, in reality, they are the same women at different points in their lives. Six in 10 women who have an abortion are already a parent.16 Moreover, 52% of women having an abortion intend to have children or more children in the future." (p.10)

    The entire report is fairly interesting, as it attempts to quantify some of issues of contraceptive use, education, income, safety, and other topics affecting abortion rates and women's decisions. A press release, "A Tale of Two Americas for Women," accompanies the report.

    In the interest of full disclosure, the Guttmacher Institute does support women's reproductive freedoms, as evidenced by their mission statement: "The Institute's mission is to protect the reproductive choices of all women and men in the United States and throughout the world. It is to support their ability to obtain the information and services needed to achieve their full human rights, safeguard their health and exercise their individual responsibilities in regard to sexual behavior and relationships, reproduction and family formation."

    Update: The Washington Post has what I think is a more interesting and complete article on the report, Unwanted Pregnancies Rise for Poor Women." The article quotes Leslie Unruh of the Abstinence Clearinghouse (who/which I previously discussed here) as believing that "the growing number of unintended pregnancies among poorer women shows that traditional sex education programs are failing." Unruh was quoted as stating, "Programs for poor women are often so condescending, even degrading," she said. "They teach how to put on a condom rather than how to take control of their lives."

    Candy of Feminism Without Clothes has what I think is an apt response to Unruh: (NSFW due to nudity - Candy also runs the SeeCandyBleed blog focused on her menstrual art)
    "What the hell? You know what's really, really degrading to poor women? Thinking that the best way to help them "take control of their lives" is to focus on not have[sic] sex. Not on how to make the decision to have sex, and how to be sexually active in a responsible manner, if they should so choose. How is denying anyone information about anything- including how to put on a condom- teaching them to take control of their lives? Am I living in bizarro world here?"

    More locally, Thoughts of An Average Woman also has commentary on the report.

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    MeSH Tags: Abortion/Induced; Contraception/utilization; Pregnancy, Unplanned
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