Importance: Understanding how the COVID-19 pandemic affected people's desire to avoid pregnancy is essential for interpreting the pandemic's associations with access to reproductive health care and reproductive autonomy. Early research is largely cross-sectional and relies on people's own evaluations of how their desires changed.
Objective: To investigate longitudinal changes in pregnancy desires during the year before and the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Design, setting, and participants: In this cohort study, participants reported their pregnancy preferences at baseline and quarterly for up to 18 months between March 2019 and March 2021. An interrupted time series analysis with mixed-effects segmented linear regression was used to examine population-averaged time trends. People were recruited from 7 primary and reproductive health care facilities in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. Participants were sexually active, pregnancy-capable people aged 15 to 34 years who were not pregnant or sterilized. Data analysis was performed from September 2021 to January 2022.
Exposures: Continuous time, with knots at the onset of the first (July 1, 2020, summer surge) and second (November 1, 2020, fall surge) COVID-19 cases surges in the Southwest.
Main outcomes and measures: Preferences around potential pregnancy in the next 3 months, measured using the validated Desire to Avoid Pregnancy (DAP) scale (range, 0-4, with 4 indicating a higher desire to avoid pregnancy).
Results: The 627 participants in the analytical sample had a mean (SD) age of 24.9 (4.9) years; 320 (51.0%) identified as Latinx and 180 (28.7%) as White. Over the year before the first case surge in the US Southwest in summer 2020, population-averaged DAP scores decreased steadily over time (-0.06 point per quarter; 95% CI, -0.07 to -0.04 point per quarter; P < .001). During the summer 2020 surge, DAP scores stopped declining (0.05 point per quarter; 95% CI, -0.03 to 0.13 point per quarter; change in slope, P < .001). During the fall 2020 surge, however, DAP scores declined again at -0.11 point per quarter (95% CI, -0.26 to 0.04 point per quarter; change in slope, P = .10). Participants aged 15 to 24 years and those who were nulliparous and primiparous experienced greater declines in DAP score before the summer surge, and greater reversals of decline between summer and fall 2020, than did those who were aged 25 to 34 years and multiparous.
Conclusions and relevance: These findings suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic onset was associated with the stalling of a prior trend toward greater desire for pregnancy over time, particularly for people earlier in their reproductive lives.