A quarter of women who responded to a survey reported falling pregnant in the past 10 years without planning to do so, and 30.4% of those pregnancies were terminated
A research letter published online by the Medical Journal of Australia sets out the results of a national random computer-assisted telephone (mobile and landline) survey of women aged 18 to 45.
The respondents were asked whether they had had an unintended pregnancy in the previous 10 years, and whether any such pregnancy was unwanted.
“Of 2571 eligible women, 2013 (78.3%) completed interviews,” the authors write.
“A total of 1390 women (69.1%) had been pregnant during the past ten years, including 362 unintended pregnancies (26%). Most unintended pregnancies (246, 68%) were reported as wanted; 94 (26%) were described as unwanted.”
Half the women with an unintended pregnancy gave birth (194, 53.6%), while 110 (30.4%) had abortions.
In 55 (15.2%) the pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage, and three (0.8%) were still pregnant at the time of the survey.
“Of the women who had been pregnant but did not report an unintended pregnancy, 14.7% (151 of 1024) reported having had an abortion.
“Most women who had unintended pregnancies (205 of 362, 56.6%) reported not having used contraception at the time.
“Of the 150 women (41.4%) who had an unintended pregnancy while using contraception, 96 (64%) had used oral contraceptives and 40 (26.9%) had used condoms as their primary methods; nine (6%) were using long-acting reversible contraception.”
The researchers warned that while nearly one in five women who had been pregnant reported an abortion, this number was likely lower than the actual figure due to “under-reporting on this sensitive topic”.
The research followed a previous study, undertaken in 2005, in which 18% of women aged 18 to 44 has reported that their most recent pregnancy was mistimed. In the 2005 research, another 17% said the pregnancy was unwanted.
The researchers say that more research is needed on why women do not access effective contraception, despite its availability.
“Clinicians and services should focus their attention on women at highest risk of unintended pregnancy, including those who have had three or more pregnancies,” they say.
“The immediate post partum and post-abortion periods are opportune times for intervening to avert unintended pregnancies.”