Prime Minister to Note: Unintended Pregnancies, at 51%, are significantly higher in Canada and USA than the global average.

Coincidental with the PM’s UN General Assembly speech supporting maternal and child health, a respected reproductive health NGO reports that forty percent of pregnancies worldwide – a significantly higher 51% in Canada and the USA – are unintended. Approximately one half of these end in abortion.

Lesson: there can be no meaningful maternal health program without reproductive health – including family planning and contraception, and access to legal, safe abortion.  PIC believes this lesson should be central to Canada’s international development agenda and its overseas assistance programmes.

Report notes that of 213 million pregnancies worldwide in 2012, 40% – 85 million – were unintended, about the same proportion as in 2008 (42%). The Guttmacher Institute study, “Intended and Unintended Pregnancies Worldwide in 2012 and Recent Trends,” by Gilda Sedgh et al., found that the proportion of unintended pregnancies varied by region with the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean (56%) and North America (51%), the lowest in Africa (35%), Oceania (37%) and Asia (38%). Europe was the closest to the global average (45%).

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

Overall, between 2008 and 2012, the unintended pregnancy rate remained steady at 44% in developed regions but was higher than average in North America (51). In less developed regions, the rate declined from 59 to 54; mostly due to 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 high toll on women, families and… nations, impeding efforts to reduce poverty and spur development,” said Sedgh. “Efforts to address this serious public health issue must be intensified and prioritized.  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 than in less developing regions (54 vs. 49%). The authors noted that particularly in the developing world, each year 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.