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State Policies Linked to Unintended Pregnancies

In a recent study, researchers from the Guttmacher Institute found that 33 states made access to contraception and reproductive health services more difficult or expensive for women. From 1994 to 2001, many states passed laws restricting access to birth control, cut funding to state family planning services, and moved to abstinence-based sex education programs in schools. These changes made knowledge about contraception and access to family planning especially difficult for young or low-income women, resulting in more unintended pregnancies.

Sharon L. Camp, president of Guttmacher Institute, told the Washington Post that “Unintended pregnancy in the United States is twice as high as in most of Western Europe,” pointing out that this number contributes to the US’s higher abortion rates, as well, and reduction of unintended pregnancy has been a government goal for several years. In 2000, the federal government set a goal of reducing unintended pregnancies by 40 percent by 2010, and the study evaluated the progress states have made toward that goal. California, New York, Alabama and South Carolina had done the most to increase women’s knowledge of and access to contraceptive services, while Indiana, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, and Utah were lagging furthest behind. In the states that did the most to improve access to birth control, unintended pregnancy rates declined by over 30 percent, reports the Christian Science Monitor, while lowest-ranking Nebraska saw only a 17 percent decline.

The common factor in a state’s success was recognition of the links between unplanned pregnancy and welfare dependency, with states using creative measures such as extending family planning services to low-income women through Medicaid. Camp said that “By following the example of states ranging from California to South Carolina and Alaska to Alabama, which have made huge strides in improving access to contraception, we can make similar progress toward reducing unintended pregnancy in all states.”

Sources:

Christian Science Monitor 2/28/06; Guttmacher Institute 2/28/06; Washington Post 3/1/06