A new study from the Guttmacher Institute reports that as the rate of unintended pregnancies continues to decrease among wealthy or educated women, the rate among women who fall below the federal poverty line has climbed.

The new report by Lawrence B. Finer and Mia R. Zolna — “Unintended Pregnancy in the United States: Incidence and Disparities, 2006,” (.pdf) — shows that higher-income women are continuing to have more success planning their pregnancies.

According to the institute’s press release:

In 1994, the unintended pregnancy rate among women with incomes below the federal poverty line was 88 per 1,000 women aged 15–44; it increased to 120 in 2001 and 132 in 2006—a 50% rise over the period. At the same time, the rate among higher-income women (those with incomes at or above 200% of the poverty line) fell from 34 in 1994 to 28 in 2001 and 24 in 2006—a 29% decrease. Poor women’s high rate of unintended pregnancy results in their also having high—and increasing—rates of both abortions (52 per 1,000) and unplanned births (66 per 1,000). In 2006, poor women had an unintended pregnancy rate five times that of higher-income women, and an unintended birth rate six times as high.

Analyzing U.S. government data from the National Survey of Family Growth and other sources, Finer and Zolna found that of the 6.7 million pregnancies in 2006, nearly half (49%) were unintended. Although some unintended pregnancies are accepted or even welcomed, more than four in ten (43%) end in abortion. Unintended pregnancy rates are elevated not only among poor and low-income women, but also among women aged 18–24, cohabiting women and minority women. It is important to note, however, that poor women have high unintended pregnancy rates nearly across the board, regardless of their education, race and ethnicity, marital status or age.

In contrast to the high rates among certain groups, some women in the United States are having considerable success timing and spacing their pregnancies. Higher-income women, white women, college graduates and married women have relatively low unintended pregnancy rates (as low as 17 per 1,000 among higher-income white women—one-third the national rate of 52 per 1,000), suggesting that women who have better access to reproductive health services, have achieved their educational goals or are in relationships that support a desired pregnancy are more likely than other women to achieve planned pregnancies and avoid those they do not want.

The president and CEO of the Guttmacher Institute, Sharon Camp, says “we must ensure that all women, and particularly those who are most vulnerable, have access to the education and range of reproductive health services and counseling they need in order to plan the pregnancies they want and prevent the ones they don’t.”

In Florida, public funding for family planning services was decreased by almost $1 million. Low-income women are typically most affected by cuts to public funding for these services. The state Legislature also added a provision to its Medicaid overhaul that Planned Parenthood officials say will add obstacles to access for family planning services among Medicaid beneficiaries.

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