Half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned. Women faced with an unplanned pregnancy might consider parenting, adoption, and abortion. Currently, access to abortion is under threat in the United States, with many states implementing bans on abortions using particular methods or after a certain point in pregnancy, bans based on the reason a person is seeking an abortion, and policies designed to force clinics that provide abortions to close. Limiting access to abortion could have significant adverse effects on women who have the common experience of unplanned pregnancy.
We describe the results of in-depth interviews conducted in December 2018 with 26 Survey of Family Planning and Women’s Lives respondents about their experiences with unplanned pregnancy: how they felt when they discovered they were pregnant, what factors they considered when making a decision about the pregnancy, and how unplanned pregnancy influenced their lives. Key findings include the following:
- Though deciding whether to continue or terminate an unplanned pregnancy could be challenging, interviewees emphasized the importance of having choices. Having access to information on their options, presented without judgment, helped some make the decision they felt was right for them.
- Some interviewees could not access birth control, or some other issue prevented them from using it at the time they became pregnant.
- Interviewees considered many factors when deciding how to proceed with an unplanned pregnancy and weighed the importance of these factors differently, based on their personal circumstances. Interviewees considered their financial situation, relationship status, support networks, future plans, mental and physical health, current family size, and ethical and religious beliefs. Some also considered the stigma associated with unplanned pregnancy and abortion.
- Several interviewees faced challenges accessing an abortion, including needing to travel long distances, encountering protestors, being required to view an ultrasound before the procedure, and needing to take time off work for the appointments.
- Unplanned pregnancy significantly affected many interviewees’ lives in the short and long terms, whether their pregnancy resulted in abortion, pregnancy loss, or birth.