"Nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended."

Edith Ajello on Friday, October 14th, 2011 in commentary piece

R.I. Rep. Edith Ajello says half of pregnancies in U.S. are unintended

In a recent Providence Journal commentary, Rhode Island Rep. Edith H. Ajello and Sen. Rhoda A. Perry argued for the need for better preventive medicine, including "the full range of reproductive health care."

Until this year, health insurers could limit or even deny coverage to pregnant women if the insurer determined the pregnancy amounted to a so-called preexisting health condition. But that changed in March with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the Obama administration’s overhaul of the health-care system.

And in August, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services adopted guidelines for women’s preventative preventive care that include coverage for contraception.

"It’s about time!" the legislators wrote of that measure. "Nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended."

Nearly half? That caught our attention, so we decided to check it.  

First, some background.  

In their commentary piece, they urged Rhode Island to support the creation of a health-insurance exchange, as all states are required to do under the Affordable Care Act.

The exchanges are intended to lower insurance costs by fostering competition among insurance providers.

In Rhode Island, legislation to create an exchange passed the Senate but died in a House committee. Perry cast one of six dissenting votes against the Senate bill, which had been amended to include a provision to prevent health insurers from using taxpayer money or subsidies to cover abortions. ( A House bill with no restrictions on abortion coverage was held for further study.)

Governor Lincoln Chafee issued an executive order in September to create an exchange.

Under the new federal rules, insurers will have to expand coverage for preventive care, including birth control. The expanded coverage is clearly a significant development if, as Ajello and Perry wrote, "nearly half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended."

So we asked the two lawmakers for their source in writing the piece.

The facts

Ajello directed us to The Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization based in New York City, which does research and policy analysis about sexual and reproductive health.

The Guttmacher Institute has produced two studies about unintended pregnancies in the United States. The most recent, "Unintended pregnancy in the United States: incidence and disparities, 2006’’ published in August 2011, states that  "nearly half (49%) of pregnancies were unintended in 2006."

The earlier study, "Disparities in Rates of Unintended Pregnancy In the United States, 1994 and 2001,’’ also reported 49 percent of pregnancies in 2001 were unintended, a level unchanged from 1994.

The studies define an unintended pregnancy as one in which the pregnancy was either "mistimed," meaning the woman did not want the pregnancy at the time of conception (even if she may have wanted to become pregnant at some future date), or which was "unwanted," meaning that she did not want to become pregnant then or in the future.

(Unintended pregnancies are an important public health issue, the study says, because they are associated with "a number of adverse maternal behaviors and child health outcomes, including inadequate or delayed initiation of prenatal care, smoking and drinking during pregnancy, premature birth and lack of breastfeeding, as well as negative physical and mental health effects on children.")

Of the 6.7 million pregnancies in the United States in 2006, about 3.2 million were unintended, the 2006 study reported. Of the 3.2 million, the study said, 29 percent were "mistimed," and 19 percent -- or 608,000 -- were "unwanted."

The original study, as well as a footnote referencing the more recent one, were posted on the web site of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A CDC spokeswoman confirmed that the Guttmacher studies are based on data from the CDC’s National Survey of Family Growth, an ongoing survey of about 5,000 women each year whose responses are compiled in periodic reports that reflect the reproductive history of tens of thousands of women. The studies also rely on population data from the U.S. census.

Both studies reported that the share of total pregnancies that were "unintended" has remained unchanged at 49 percent.

Our ruling

Perry and Ajello stated that nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended. Two studies based on data from the U.S. census and the CDC reported that the share of unintended pregnancies in the United States was 49 percent.

We rule this claim True.

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