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More Women Having Abortions Are Using Contraceptives

Women of all different ages, educational levels, racial and ethnic groups, social and economic classes and religions find it necessary to have an abortion when faced with accidental pregnancy, shows a new survey of nearly 10,000 abortion patients conducted by The Alan Guttmacher Institute in 1994-1995. About half of all U.S. women will have an abortion at some point in their lives. While abortion rates among young, unmarried, poor and minority women are the highest, rates among those of religious, racial and ethnic groups thought to oppose abortion are high as well. Key findings include:

Twelve percent more women having abortions in the mid-1990s used a contraceptive method during the month that they became pregnant than did in the late 1980s (57.5% compared to 51.3%). That is, six in 10 women having abortions experienced a contraceptive failure.

Among all women who are having sex and do not want to become pregnant -- women at risk of unintended pregnancy -- nine in 10 use some contraceptive method (although sometimes inconsistently or incorrectly). Even though contraceptive use is often imperfect, it reduces the likelihood of having an abortion by about 85%. Nonetheless, many women trying to prevent unplanned pregnancies have contraceptive failures that lead to abortion.

"Our study clearly shows that the large majority of women are motivated to prevent an unwanted pregnancy and avoid abortion in the first place. It is encouraging that more women having abortions are practicing contraception. Unfortunately, neither methods nor users are perfect and the rate of contraceptive failure remains high. Nonetheless, the findings suggest that improved contraceptive use might be responsible for the drop in abortions during the early 1990s" comments Jeannie Rosoff, President of The Alan Guttmacher Institute.

"Abortion Patients in 1994-1995: Characteristics and Contraceptive Use", by Stanley Henshaw and Kathryn Kost, appears in the July/August 1996 issue of the Institute's peer-reviewed, bimonthly journal, Family Planning Perspectives. It is based on a self-administered questionnaire given to a representative sample of 9,985 women who had abortions during 1994-1995 in 100 hospital and nonhospital facilities. The new study updates and expands upon a similar 1987 survey of 9,480 abortion patients conducted by the Institute.

Overall, 58% of the women having abortions experienced a contraceptive failure; 31% had used a method in the past but were not using one during the month in which they conceived, and 11% had never used any method.

Among the 58% of women having abortions in 1994-1995 who had been practicing contraception during the month they became pregnant, the condom was the method most commonly used. The proportion of women using a condom increased dramatically between 1987 and 1994-1995 among all groups of women having abortions; most of the increased usage replaced reliance on other barrier methods or usage of no method.

Among the 42% of women who were not using a contraceptive method when they became pregnant, three-quarters had used one at some time; the majority of these had most recently relied on either the pill or the condom. Fifty-three percent of prior pill users and 76% of prior condom users became pregnant within three months of stopping use.

The proportion of abortion patients who have never used any contraceptive method is highest among women who are younger than 18, single women, Catholic women, unemployed women, minority women, those with no religious affiliation, and those with low education and income levels..


The Alan Guttmacher Institute is a not-for-profit organization for reproductive health research, policy analysis and public education with offices in New York City and Washington, D.C.

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