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Unintended Pregnancy Rate in U.S. Drops to Lowest Level in Three Decades

The rate of unintended pregnancy in the United States has declined substantially for the first time in decades, a new study finds.

The study by the Guttmacher Institute finds that the rare of unintended pregnancies among women and girls between the ages of 15 and 44 dropped from 54 percent in 2008 to 45 percent in 2011. That is the lowest level seen in at least 30 years, according to the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine

Unintended pregnancy rates at the state level were not broken down, and Jodi Liggett, vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood Arizona, said her group doesn't have state statistics either. But she said Planned Parenthood believes "Arizona is participating in the same positive trend as we're seeing across the country" when it comes to the rate of unintended pregnancies.

“A likely explanation for the decline in the rate of unintended pregnancy is a change in the frequency and type of contraceptive use over time,” authors of the study wrote. “Evidence shows that the overall use of any method of contraception among women and girls at risk for unintended pregnancy increased slightly between 2008 and 2012.”

The authors also point out the use of highly effective and long-acting contraceptive methods, particularly intrauterine devices known as IUDs, among females in the United States increased from 4 percent to 12 percent between 2007 and 2012. This increase, they said, occurred in almost every demographic group.

The study shows that the decline in the rate of unintended pregnancy was seen in every age, income, and education group examined. The rate among teens from 15 and 19, for example, declined 28 percent. The rate among females with incomes at 100 percent to 199 percent of the poverty level dropped by 32 percent. And the rate among those without a high school diploma declined by 28 percent.

There was also a decline among women from every ethnic and racial group. Hispanics saw the biggest decline. The rate of unintended pregnancy among Hispanics dropped from 79 percent in 2008 to 58 percent in 2011.

Among religious groups, Evangelical Protestants had the largest decline in the rate of unintended      

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pregnancy, at 27 percent. Mainline Protestants, Catholics, and women from other religions also saw declines.

The study also found that the rate of unintended pregnancy varied depending on relationship status. Women who were married had the lowest rate in 2011, while those who weren’t married but were cohabiting had the highest rate.

However, the rate among women who were cohabiting declined significantly between 2008 and 2011.

Despite the declines, the rate of unintended pregnancy continue to be high for some groups, especially for teenagers, women who are cohabiting, women living below the poverty line, and black women.

The study also looked at abortions and found that the percentage of unintended pregnancies that ended in abortion didn’t vary substantially according to age group, though the percentage did increase between 2008 and 2011 among girls between 15 and 17.

In addition, women who were married were much less likely to have an abortion if they had an unintended pregnancy than those who weren’t married. Meanwhile, black women saw the highest percentage of unintended pregnancies that ended in abortion in 2011.

Liggett of Planned Parenthood Arizona said the study demonstrates the need to continue expanding access to contraception, including IUDS and implants. Her group recently partnered with the Women's Foundation of Southern Arizona to spread awareness about IUDs, implants, and other contraceptives.

"I think the real interesting finding and the conclusion that this study drew is that this is really about family planning and contraception," she said. "Now we know definitively that the path to fewer unplanned pregnancies is widely available contraception."

The study’s findings are based on data collected from several sources, including the National Survey of Family Growth. The authors of the study considered a pregnancy unintended if a woman said she wasn’t planning to have a child at the time she became pregnant.

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