Of the 213 million pregnancies that occurred worldwide in 2012, 40%—about 85 million—were unintended, about the same proportion as in 2008, when 42% of all pregnancies globally were unintended. The new study, "Intended and Unintended Pregnancies Worldwide in 2012 and Recent Trends," by Gilda Sedgh et al. of the Guttmacher Institute, found that the proportion of pregnancies that are unintended varied considerably by region. The highest proportions were in Latin America and the Caribbean (56%) and North America (51%), and the lowest were in Africa (35%), Oceania (37%) and Asia (38%); Europe’s proportion was the closest to the global average (45%).

In addition to documenting the proportions of pregnancies that are unintended across regions, the study examined recent trends in unintended pregnancy rates per 1,000 women of reproductive age. The researchers found that the average annual decline in the global unintended pregnancy rate between 2008 and 2012 was very small, compared with the average annual decline between 1995 and 2008. In 2012, there were 53 unintended pregnancies per 1,000 women aged 15-44, compared with 57 in 2008.

Overall, between 2008 and 2012, the unintended pregnancy rate remained steady in developed regions—44, on average—but it remained higher than average in North America (51). In less developed regions, it declined from 59 to 54; most of this decline resulted from declines in the Latin American and Caribbean region (76 to 68) and in Africa (86 to 80). There was less of a decline in Asia, where the rate (46) was more comparable to that in Europe (43) and in Oceania (43).

"These 85 million unintended pregnancies take a serious toll on women, families and ultimately nations, impeding efforts to reduce poverty and spur development," said Sedgh. "Efforts to address this serious public health issue must be intensified and prioritized, and this cannot be achieved without the commitments of stakeholders at the global, regional, country and local levels."

According to the findings, in 2012, 50% of all unintended pregnancies ended in abortion, 38% in unplanned births, and 13% in miscarriage. Overall, the proportion of unintended pregnancies ending in abortion was higher in developed regions than in developing regions (54 vs. 49%). The authors note that each year in the developing world, thousands of women die and many more are seriously injured as a result of unsafe clandestine abortions.

"Intended and Unintended Pregnancies Worldwide in 2012 and Recent Trends" is available online and appears in the September issue of Studies in Family Planning.