Unintended Pregnancies Are Increasingly Concentrated Among Poor Women Who Lack Birth Control Access


Even though the number of unintended pregnancies in the United States has remained relatively constant, they are becoming increasingly concentrated among low-income women, according to a new report from the Guttmacher Institute.

Between 1994 and 2006, the number of unintended pregnancies among women whose incomes fall below the national poverty line rose by 50 percent. At the same time, however, unintended pregnancies dropped among more economically privileged women:

According to Guttmacher’s most recent data, the unintended pregnancy rate for women living below the poverty level is more than five times as high than the rate for the women in the highest income level. In addition to tracking with wealth, higher rates of unintended pregnancy also correlate with lower levels of education.

It’s also clearly a matter of lacking access to or information about effective forms of birth control. Of all of the women in the U.S. who are at risk for an unintended pregnancy, 35 percent say they either inconsistently use contraception or don’t use any form of contraception at all. And that group accounts for 95 percent of all unintended pregnancies each year.

Guttmacher notes that publicly-funded family planning services, like the Planned Parenthood clinics that often partner with states’ Medicaid programs, go a long way toward helping low-income women avoid pregnancy. The large proportion of poorer women who experience unintended pregnancy means that about two-thirds of unintended births are paid for by Medicaid, an estimated $11.1 billion cost in 2006. But without those family planning services, Guttmacher projects that figure would balloon by 60 percent to an estimated $18 billion expense.

Despite the essential role that family planning clinics play, they’re under attack in states across the country. States are slashing their family planning budgets and working hard to defund Planned Parenthood — while simultaneously cutting off low-income women’s abortion access by driving up the cost of the procedure and preventing public insurance programs from paying for it. Most recently, conservatives are even attacking the fact that public insurance programs provide maternity care for single mothers who unintentionally become pregnant outside of marriage, suggesting Medicaid dollars shouldn’t go toward that expense.

Studies have repeatedly shown that, even though easily accessible contraception is essential for helping women manage their reproductive health and stay out of poverty, many women still face barriers to getting it. About 30 percent of U.S. women who don’t currently use a reliable form of birth control say they would start if the pill were available over the counter.