One in ThreeThe Case for Wanted and Welcomed Pregnancy
Preventing Unplanned and Teen Pregnancy: Why It Matters
Teen pregnancy is closely linked to a host of other critical social issues — poverty and income, overall child well-being, out-of-wedlock births, responsible fatherhood, health issues, education, child welfare, and other risky behavior. There are also substantial public costs associated with adolescent childbearing. Consequently, teen pregnancy should be viewed not only as a reproductive health issue, but as one that works to improve all of these measures. Simply put, if more children in this country were born to parents who are ready and able to care for them, we would see a significant reduction in a host of social problems afflicting children in the United States, from school failure and crime to child abuse and neglect.
Like teen pregnancy, unplanned pregnancy among young adults is at the root of a number of important public health and social challenges. Unplanned pregnancies are frequently resolved by abortion—1.3 million in the United State in 2001, and although Americans differ a great deal in their views about abortion, virtually all of us see value in reducing the prevalence of abortion and would prefer that fewer women have to confront an unplanned pregnancy in the first place.
In addition, in the most recent year for which good data are available, there were about 567,000 births from pregnancies that women themselves say they did not want at the time of conception or ever in the future. These children are particularly vulnerable. For example, even when taking into account various social and economic factors, women experiencing an unplanned pregnancy are less likely to obtain prenatal care, and their babies are at increased risk of both low birthweight and of being born prematurely. They are also less likely to be breastfed.
Children born from unplanned pregnancies also face a range of developmental risks as well. For example, these children report poorer physical and mental health compared to children born as the result of an intended pregnancy. And a new analysis from Child Trends indicates that, after controlling for numerous background factors, children 2 years old who were born as the result of an unplanned pregnancy have significantly lower cognitive test scores when compared to children born as the result of an intended pregnancy.
In addition, the majority of children from an unplanned pregnancy are born to unmarried women. This is important because children raised in single-parent families face more challenges in a variety of areas than do children raised in two-parent, low-conflict married families. For example, when compared to similar children who grow up with two parents, children in one-parent families are more likely to be poor, drop out of high school, have lower grade-point averages, lower college aspirations, and poorer school attendance records. As adults, they also have higher rates of divorce. Such data suggest that reducing unplanned pregnancy will increase the proportion of children born into circumstances that better support their growth and development.