Unplanned pregnancy constitute 37% of births, and even more of the total number of pregnancies (43% of unplanned pregnancies end in abortion), according to a new report on pregnancy and birth control choices from The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics. The data, taken from 2006 to 2010, showed an uptick in the number of unplanned pregnancies since previous years, but it’s not because women don’t know how to use contraceptives. Apparently, it’s more because women are deeply confused about fertility and reproduction.
Of the mothers who said their pregnancies had been unplanned, researchers asked how the “accident” had happened.
- 35.9% thought they couldn’t get pregnant
- 23.1% said they wouldn’t mind getting pregnant
- 17.3% said they weren’t expecting to have sex
- 14.3% said they were concerned about birth control’s side effects
- 8% said their partner didn’t want to use condoms
- 5.3% said their partner didn’t want them to use birth control
The reasons are varied and complex, but what stuns me is how many women believe that they can’t get pregnant, but (clearly) can.
Amanda Marcotte made some salient points on The XX Factor about why women are ambivalent about family planning, and why women don’t plan to have sex (the cultural “belief that women who plan for sex are dirty sluts must also have something to do with why so many women turn up pregnant because they wouldn’t prepare for the possibility of sex,” she writes). But her explanation for the high percentage of women who think they’re immune to sperm doesn’t quite convince me:
It seems strange that so many women think they are infertile, but looking at the combination of social silence on the topic of contraception and a pop culture that portrays people having contraception-free sex with relatively few pregnancies makes it easier to understand.
I can’t get into the heads of all women, but I find it hard to believe that so many of us would either be a) stupid enough to think that we can have unprotected sex without getting pregnant because we saw it in a movie, or b) that we estimate our chance of getting pregnant based on the frequency of unplanned pregnancies portrayed on screen.
I do, however, think that there are plenty of women who can’t afford to visit an OB/GYN who will correct or confirm their beliefs about their fertility (and provide contraception if they are, indeed, capable of getting pregnant).
Marcotte makes great points about how cultural values compete with scientific and pragmatic solutions to unwanted pregnancies, but the reality is that even if we were culturally inclined to be more open and practical about sex, it’s still not that easy to actually pay for the health care and birth control required to reduce unplanned pregnancies. Here’s hoping that Obamacare’s huge advances for women can change that.
Photo: flickr user flequi