UNFPA calls for countries to address ‘unintended pregnancies’
The United Nations Population Fund says more than 60 per cent of unintended pregnancies end in abortions.

WITH 121 million ‘unintended pregnancies’ occurring globally every year — a number which is expected to increase — the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is calling for countries everywhere to create policies to address the issue in new ways and with greater urgency.

The call emanates from the UNFPA’s State of the World Population 2022 Report titled: “Seeing the Unseen — The case for action in the neglected crisis of unintended pregnancy” which was launched virtually on Monday.

Executive Director of the UNFPA Dr Natalia Kanem, in the preamble to the report, said the focus of the document was not about unwanted babies, happy accidents or abortion — even though more than 60 per cent of unintended pregnancies end in abortions — but about the circumstances that exist before an unintended pregnancy.

Globally, an estimated 257 million women who want to avoid pregnancy are not using safe, modern methods of contraception, and of these women, 172 million are using no method at all.

“Preventing unintended pregnancies is a non-negotiable first step. When individuals are able to exercise real informed choice over their health, bodies and futures, they can contribute to more prosperous societies and a more sustainable, equitable and just world,” the UNFPA executive director noted.

The UNFPA, while emphasising that ‘unintended is not always unwanted’, said women and girls “do not deliberately choose” half the share of pregnancies that occur.

“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…this is a price tag the world simply cannot afford. We are fast approaching 2030, the deadline for the Sustainable Development Goals and for UNFPA’s own transformative goals — to end the unmet need for family planning, end preventable maternal deaths and end gender-based violence and harmful practices, including female genital mutilation and child marriage. Now is the time to accelerate, not retreat, to transform the lives of women and girls and reach those furthest behind,” Dr Kanem said.

In the meantime, the report states that while the basic human right to choose whether to have children, and to decide on their number and spacing, is contained in many global agreements, “so many unplanned and unwanted pregnancies raise questions about how much the rights and potential of more than half of humanity are prioritised and valued”.

“They signal that the world could fail to reach its development goals for health, education and gender equality, derailing the shared ambitions of the international community,” the UNFPA report said further.

The report also said research has shown that lack of awareness about, and lack of access to contraception are no longer leading causes for non-use.

According to the UNFPA, these barriers are now overshadowed by concerns over side effects, myths, stigma and opposition from others.

Meanwhile, the entity said while countries can estimate health-care costs, monitor school drop-out rates and project levels of workforce attrition due to unintended pregnancies, these only scratch the surface as the toll of these pregnancies is — and has long been — unseen.

“No number could adequately represent the loss of life, agency and human capital that result from unintended pregnancies,” the UNFPA said, adding that with populations and their attendant need for sexual and reproductive health services expected to rise most rapidly, in the least developed countries, these losses could potentially grow.

In calling for the discourse around unintended pregnancies to be reframed, the UNFPA said it should not be framed as solely a women’s issue and should not be seen as acceptable, inevitable or even desirable — as is at times suggested in places with concerns about falling population numbers.

“COVID-19 has taught sharp lessons on the failure of many economic, political, social and other systems to support the sexual and reproductive health and rights of those who are most vulnerable,” the UNFPA said.

The report added that while challenges with consistent and correct use also play an important role in unintended pregnancies, the biggest issue, by far, is the unmet need for contraception.

Alicia Dunkley-Willis

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