Volume 25, No. 4, December 1999

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Both Unwanted Pregnancies and Abortions Are Common
Among Women in Nigeria

In some areas of Nigeria, one in five women report having experienced an unwanted conception; of these, 58% had an abortion and an additional 9% attempted unsuccessfully to end the pregnancy.1 Women who are knowledgeable about reproduction and about methods of family planning and those who are currently using contraceptives are 2-3 times as likely as others to report having had an unplanned pregnancy. Among women with unwanted conceptions, those who are familiar with contraceptives are more than seven times as likely as others to have sought an abortion.

The data for analysis came from samples of women in two local government areas--Ife, located in the southwest, and Jos, in the north. The surveys, conducted in 1995-1996, covered both urban and rural communities. All married and unmarried women aged 15-45 in randomly selected households were interviewed to collect social and demographic data, information regarding women's reproductive history and knowledge, and contraceptive practices.

Some 692 women in Ife and 824 women in Jos participated in the study. The mean age of respondents was 27; approximately one-quarter of respondents in both areas were adolescents, and about one-quarter were women in their 30s. Overall, 69% of respondents were married. Women in Ife tended to be better educated than those in Jos: More than half of respondents in Ife had obtained a secondary education, compared with fewer than one-third of those in Jos. Some 34% of participants in Jos reported that they were unemployed, nearly 10 times the proportion of unemployed respondents in Ife (4%). The majority of women in Ife were Protestant (69%), while 25% were Muslim; the remainder were Catholics or adherents of other religions. In Jos, on the other hand, almost half of women were Muslim (47%), while 38% were Protestant and 12% were Catholic; a small proportion belonged to traditional or other religions.

About 39% of women in Jos but only 15% of those in Ife knew the most fertile period during a woman's menstrual cycle. Ninety percent of all respondents were aware of a method of family planning; however, knowledge of a modern method was more common in Ife than in Jos. Women in Ife were also more likely than those in Jos to know where to obtain a method (84% vs. 74%). About 13% of women in Ife and 10% of those in Jos were using a contraceptive at the time of the survey; the pill was the most widely used method in both regions (18-19%).

Some 20% of women in each area said they had experienced an unwanted pregnancy. Bad timing was the most common reason given by these women for not wanting the pregnancy (48% in Jos and 31% in Ife), followed by a desire to stay in school (38% and 26%, respectively) and contraceptive failure (15% and 21%, respectively). Less commonly cited reasons included the expense of raising a child (7-10%), the pregnancy's being socially unacceptable (4-6%) and abandonment by one's partner (2-6%).

Some 58% of the women who reported that they had experienced an unwanted conception indicated that they had had an abortion; an additional 9% had tried unsuccessfully to end their pregnancy. Thirty-two percent of women who had had an unwanted conception reported that they had done nothing to interrupt the pregnancy. These proportions varied little between the two areas.

According to multivariate regression analyses, the likelihood that a woman would report having had an unwanted pregnancy was significantly associated with age: Overall, women aged 45 or older were 3.4 times as likely as those aged 15-24 to report an unwanted conception (odds ratios of 2.4 in Ife and 4.0 in Jos). Overall and in Jos, women who had a secondary education were significantly more likely to report an unwanted conception than were women who had no education (odds ratios of 1.9 and 2.6), as were those who had attended a university (3.1 and 4.7).

Overall and in Ife, women who were
familiar with a contraceptive were significantly more likely than women who lacked knowledge of family planning methods to report having had an unwanted conception (odds ratios of 2.0 and 3.0). Likewise, in both areas, women who were currently using a method were about three times as likely as those who were not to report having experienced an unwanted pregnancy (2.8-3.3). Knowing the fertile period of a woman's menstrual cycle was associated with similarly increased odds.

A further logistic regression analysis using the subsample of women who had reported an unwanted pregnancy showed that, among women overall and among women in Jos, those aged 25-34 were about twice as likely as younger women to report having had an abortion. In Jos, women aged 45 and older were more than three times as likely to report having had an abortion. Overall and in Jos, women who had attended secondary school were significantly more likely than those who had had no education to report having had an induced abortion (odds ratios of 2.8 and 4.5), as were those who had had a higher education (4.1 and 5.0).

Overall, women who knew of a contraceptive method were more than seven times as likely as those without such knowledge to report having had an abortion (odds ratios of 6.1 for Ife and 3.7 for Jos). Current use of a family planning method was also associated with significantly increased odds of reporting a history of abortion, both overall (2.3) and in each area (2.5 for Ife and 2.4 for Jos).

According to the researchers, their findings demonstrate that, regardless of the legal obstacles involved, Nigerian women faced with an unwanted pregnancy frequently have recourse to abortion. The substantial minority of women who said they had been using contraceptives when they became pregnant, they say, indicates a "need for active promotion of effective family planning methods in both communities." Consequently, they conclude, Nigerian policymakers should work to design "appropriate and realistic programs within the national population policy that are focused on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies and induced abortions in the country."--K. Mahler

1. Okonofua FE et al., Assessing the prevalence and determinants of unwanted pregnancy and induced abortion in Nigeria, Studies in Family Planning, 1999, 30(1):67-77.

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