Unintended pregnancy and use of emergency contraception among a large cohort of women attending for antenatal care or abortion in Scotland

Lancet. 2006 Nov 18;368(9549):1782-7. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(06)69737-7.


Background: Unintended pregnancy is common. Although many unintended pregnancies end in induced abortion, up to a third of those proceeding to birth might be unplanned. Some of these pregnancies could be prevented by emergency contraception. We have sought to establish how many pregnancies ending in either childbirth or abortion are unintended, and what proportion of women use emergency contraception to try to prevent pregnancy.

Methods: 2908 women who attended an Edinburgh hospital for antenatal care and 907 attending for abortion fully completed a self-administered questionnaire including a validated measure of pregnancy intention and questions about emergency contraceptive use.

Findings: 814 (89.7%) of 907 pregnancies among women requesting abortion were unintended compared with only 250 (8.6%) among 2908 women who planned to continue pregnancy. However, only 1909 (65.6%) of continuing pregnancies were intended. The rest of the women were ambivalent about pregnancy intention. In women who continued with their pregnancies intendedness was related to age, with unintended pregnancy most probable in young women (p<0.0001). Emergency contraception was used by 113 (11.8%) of women who requested abortion but only 40 (1%) of those planning to continue pregnancy. In those whose pregnancy was continuing, the proportions reporting use of emergency contraception were higher in young women than in older women and in those who reported that their pregnancies were unintended than in those who meant to become pregnant (both p<0.0001).

Interpretation: Unintended pregnancy is common, even among women planning to continue pregnancy. However, EC use is low even among women with no intention of conceiving, and is thus unlikely to reduce unintended pregnancy rates. Rather, we need to find ways to improve the use of regular contraception.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abortion Applicants / psychology*
  • Abortion Applicants / statistics & numerical data
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Cohort Studies
  • Contraceptives, Postcoital*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Pregnancy
  • Scotland
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Contraceptives, Postcoital