Side view of three pregnant women are touching their bellies with hands. Maternity concept.

Nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. This rate is not consistent among different demographic groups; some women will be disproportionately affected by these unplanned pregnancies and the consequences. The Healthy People 2020 campaign, designed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, has a goal to increase the percentage of intended pregnancies from 51% reported in 2002 to 56% by 2020. To effectively address unintended pregnancy in the U.S., it is important to understand who is most at risk.

Women with the highest rates of unintended pregnancy are low-income, between the ages of 18 and 24, and cohabiting (living with a partner without being married). According to the most recent data collected in 2011, women who live below the federal poverty level are about five times more likely to have an unintended pregnancy compared to women who live at least 200% above the poverty level (112 per 1,000 vs. 20 per 1,000). The unintended pregnancy rate for black women is more than double the rate for non-Hispanic white women (79 per 1,000 vs. 33 per 1,000). The highest unintended pregnancy rates are among women without a high school diploma (See our previous blog post Effects of Unintended Pregnancies on Young Mothers for more information). When factoring out teenagers who are not sexually active, women aged 15-19 have the highest unintended pregnancy rate of any age group. About three out of four teenage pregnancies are unintended. The rate of unintended pregnancy for women ages 15 to 19 in Arizona was 56 per 1,000, compared to the national rate of 52 per 1,000.

These differences further marginalize those populations already at a disadvantage. For example, a woman living at or below the poverty level already has a hard time making ends meet. When an unintended pregnancy occurs, the woman must find the resources to either terminate the pregnancy, seek adoption services, or raise a child. In addition to the apparent costs of any of these choices, there are also subtler ways in which a woman will be affected. School attendance or job security may be negatively affected during or after her pregnancy, further hindering her ability to overcome her financial burdens. If the woman decides to raise the child, that child is more likely to live their life in poverty, making the burden of unintended pregnancies a generational issue. By acknowledging certain groups are more at risk for unintended pregnancy we can more appropriately address the issue. Funding such as Title X is an important source of financial assistance for reproductive health services, and Arizona Family Health Partnership is working to ensure those who need help have access to it.

 – Erica Freese, MPH student intern