According to a recent Guttmacher report, the overall rate of unintended pregnancy in the United States stayed the same between 1994 and 2006, but this is no neutral statistic. While the rate of unintended pregnancies has gone down among high-income women, the rate of unintended pregnancies among poorer women has gone up.
Women aged 15-44 with incomes below the federal poverty line were having unintended pregnancies at a rate of 88 per 1000 in 1994; by 2006, that rate was 132 per 1000. Meanwhile, women whose incomes were at least twice the federal poverty line saw a decrease in their rate of unintended pregnancies, from 34 per 1000 in 1994 to 24 per 1000 in 2006. According to the Guttmacher Institute, the high unintended pregnancy rates among low-income women also lead to higher rates of abortion and unplanned births.
This story has been blogged about at Ms. Magazine and at the Washington Post where columnist Jennifer LaRue Huget points out a positive finding: unintended pregnancies among women aged 15-17 have gone down. Still, the income discrepancies highlighted by the report are perhaps its most striking findings. Guttmacher Institute President and CEO Sharon Camp commented on the disturbing nature of those findings:
The growing disparity in unplanned pregnancy rates between poor and higher-income women—which reflects persistent, similar disparities across a range of health and social indicators—is deeply troubling. Addressing them all requires not only improved access to reproductive health care, but also looking to broader social and economic inequities.
Another Guttmacher article, Wise Investment: Reducing the Steep Cost to Medicaid Of Unintended Pregnancy in the United States, shows that unintended pregnancies cost Medicaid a conservatively estimated $11 billion a year. On the other hand, every dollar spent in family planning saves four dollars by avoiding those later Medicaid costs.
From an economic standpoint as well as a reproductive health issue for all women, there is no denying the importance of continued funding for family planning programs and education efforts to ensure that all women have access to the knowledge and resources necessary to prevent unplanned pregnancies.