Sexual Orientation Differences in Pregnancy and Abortion Across the Lifecourse

Brittany M. Charlton, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Bethany Everett, University of Utah Alexis Light, Washington Hospital Center Rachel K. Jones, Guttmacher Institute Elizabeth Janiak, Harvard Medical School Audrey J. Gaskins, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Jorge E. Chavarro, Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health Heidi Moseson, Ibis Reproductive Health Vishnudas Sarda, Boston Children's Hospital S. Bryn Austin, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

First published on Women's Health Issues:

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Abstract / Summary

We examined sexual orientation-related differences in various pregnancy outcomes (e.g., teen pregnancy, abortion) across the lifespan.

We collected data from 124,710 participants in three U.S. longitudinal cohort studies, the Nurses’ Health Study 2 and 3 and Growing Up Today Study 1, followed from 1989 to 2017. Multivariate regression was used to calculate differences of each outcome—ever had pregnancy, teen pregnancy, ever had abortion, and age at first birth—by sexual orientation groups (e.g., heterosexual, mostly heterosexual, bisexual, lesbian), adjusting for potential confounders of age and race/ethnicity.

All sexual minority groups—except lesbians—were generally more likely than heterosexual peers to have a pregnancy, a teen pregnancy, and an abortion. For example, Growing Up Today Study 1 bisexual participants were three times as likely as heterosexuals to have had an abortion (risk ratio, 3.21; 95% confident interval, 1.94–5.34). Lesbian women in all of the cohorts were approximately half as likely to have a pregnancy compared with heterosexual women. Few sexual orientation group differences were detected in age at first birth.

The increased risk of unintended pregnancy among sexual minority women likely reflects structural barriers to sexual and reproductive health services. It is critical that sex education programs become inclusive of sexual minority individuals and medical education train health care providers to care for this population. Health care providers should not make harmful heteronormative assumptions about pregnant patients and providers must learn to take sexual histories as well as offer contraceptive counseling to all patients who want to prevent a pregnancy regardless of sexual orientation.


United States