By preventing unintended pregnancies, contraception provides significant health, social, and economic benefits for women. But as this infographic documents, correct and consistent contraceptive use is critical.
The two-thirds of U.S. women at risk of unintended pregnancy who use contraception consistently and correctly throughout the course of any given year account for only 5 percent of all unintended pregnancies. The 19 percent of women at risk who use contraception inconsistently account for 43 percent of unintended pregnancies, while the 16 percent of women at risk who use no contraceptive method at all for a month or more during the year account for 52 percent.
These simple statistics demonstrate how effective contraceptive use can be. They also categorically refute claims by anti-contraception activists that access to contraception somehow leads to more unintended pregnancies and subsequent abortions.
In fact, most women having abortions were either not using any contraception or were using a method inconsistently. In 2000, the most recent year for which data are available, almost one-half (46 percent) of abortion patients were not using a contraceptive method in the month they got pregnant. Among the 54 percent of abortion patients who were using some form of contraception, the overwhelming majority acknowledged that their use was inconsistent, for example, because they had missed a pill or had not used a condom every time. The population of women obtaining abortions does not include the large majority of consistent contraceptive users, since they did not experience an unintended pregnancy and therefore never had a need for abortion services.
The contraceptive method used is also a factor. Users of highly effective methods, such as the pill and the IUD, are underrepresented among women who have abortions, compared with the general population. Meanwhile, users of less-effective methods, such as condoms and withdrawal, are overrepresented among abortion patients. But use of any method is far more effective than using no method at all: Couples who do not practice contraception have approximately an 85 percent chance of having an unintended pregnancy within a year.
All of this is why debates around contraception should focus on ways to empower the one-third of sexually active women who want to avoid an unintended pregnancy but are not using a contraceptive method consistently and correctly. Among other steps, this includes:
protecting and expanding programs like Title X and Medicaid that make family planning services accessible for low-income and young women;
removing cost barriers that prevent women from obtaining the methods they think are best for them, especially long-acting IUDs or implants, which are the most effective methods on the market (the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage guarantee is a big step toward increasing women’s access to these methods);
making emergency contraception available to all women over-the-counter without age or point-of-sale restrictions; and
developing new methods for women whose needs are not met by currently available contraceptives.
We encourage you to share this graphic with your friends, family, and colleagues to help ensure that our national debate is guided by facts, not misinformation. And be sure to let us know your thoughts on the Guttmacher Institute’s Facebook page.