The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has released its annual State of World Population Report 2022. The report is based on the data published by WHO and the Guttmacher Institute that shows nearly half of all pregnancies worldwide – 121 million annually – are unintended.
Natalie Kanem, Executive Director of UNFPA, writes: “The basic human right to determine freely and responsibly the number and the spacing of one’s children has been recognized in numerous international human rights agreements over the past five decades. During this same period, the world has seen a vast expansion in the availability of effective, modern contraceptives – one of the greatest public health achievements in recent history. Why, then, are nearly half of all pregnancies unintended?….
“Beyond the personal context, unintended pregnancies have societal roots and global consequences. This, therefore, is not a report about unwanted babies or happy accidents. It is not a report about motherhood. And although abortion cannot be removed from the discussion — more than 60 per cent of unintended pregnancies end in abortion — this is not a report about abortion either. Instead, this report is about the circumstances that exist before an unintended pregnancy, when a person or a couple’s agency to decide is critically undermined, and about the many impacts that follow, affecting individuals and societies over generations.
“We see, through original research by the authors and in new data from partner organizations, that shame, stigma, fear, poverty, gender inequality and many other factors undermine women and girls’ ability to exercise choice, to seek and obtain contraceptives, to negotiate condom use with a partner, to speak aloud and pursue their desires and ambitions. Most of all, this report raises provocative and unsettling questions about how much the world values women and girls beyond their reproductive capacities. Because recognizing the full worth of women and girls, and enabling them to contribute fully to their societies, means ensuring they have the tools, information and power to make this fundamental choice for themselves.”
It is impossible to fully ascertain, let alone quantify, the overall toll of unintended pregnancies. Yet a growing body of evidence points to massive opportunity costs — from correlations tying unintended pregnancy rates to lower human development scores, to billions of dollars in related health-care costs, to persistently high rates of unsafe abortion and related maternal deaths. Unsafe abortion is one of the leading causes of the more than 800 maternal deaths occurring each day. This is a price tag the world simply cannot afford.