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Unintended pregnancies a sign of the times

May 7, 2009 |  9:53 am

Recent surveys suggest some couples are delaying having a baby because of the poor economy and lack of job security or unemployment. But the recession may be leading to more unintended pregnancies too. A survey released this week shows some women are abandoning their contraceptives or switching to less expensive, less reliable methods due to the cost or lack of health insurance coverage.

The survey, conducted by the Gallup Organization, found 3% of women of child-bearing age had quit using birth control because they could not afford it. Six percent of women using a hormonal form of birth control, such as the pill, said they had abandoned the method because they could not afford it. Ten percent of women said they were worried about their ability to keep paying for contraception. Some women said they had switched birth control methods because of cost.

The survey was commissioned by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and released at the organization's annual meeting in Chicago.

Twenty percent of women said they are more concerned about having an unintended pregnancy today than they were one year ago.

"Even 3% is a big number if you look at the entire number of women in that age group," said Dr. Iffath A. Hoskins, vice president of ACOG, who presented the survey results. "We're deeply concerned about the effect of the economy on women's healthcare."

About 50% of pregnancies in the United States are unintended. In good economic times, many families are happy to welcome another child, Hoskins said. But when one or both spouses are unemployed or when money is tight, an unintended pregnancy can be a disaster for a family. Still, contraceptives are expensive and difficult to obtain in the United States compared to many other countries, said Dr. Rebekah Gee, an obstetrician and gynecologist who served on the Obama administration transition team.

"Birth control is unacceptably expensive," Gee said. Every dollar spent in the public health sector on contraceptives saves $3 in childbirth and newborn healthcare costs for Medicaid. But not all insurance companies pay for contraceptives, and women spend money and time on doctor's office visits to obtain prescriptions for the most reliable forms of birth control. "There are multiple costs associated with contraceptives that we don't even think about," she said.

The Gallup survey was conducted for ACOG during the period from March 25 to to April 1, 2009. More than 1,000 women of reproductive age were surveyed.

-- Shari Roan

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