Unintended pregnancy. Consequences and solutions for a worldwide problem

J Nurse Midwifery. 1998 Nov-Dec;43(6):483-91. doi: 10.1016/s0091-2182(98)00063-9.


Unintended pregnancy is a worldwide problem that affects women, their families, and society. Unintended pregnancy can result from contraceptive failure, non-use of contraceptive services, and, less commonly, rape. Abortion is a frequent consequence of unintended pregnancy and, in the developing world, can result in serious, long-term negative health effects including infertility and maternal death. In many developing countries, poverty, malnutrition, and lack of sanitation and education contribute to serious health consequences for women and their families experiencing an unintended pregnancy. Regardless of the cause, unintended pregnancy and its negative consequences can be prevented by access to contraceptive services including emergency contraception, safe and legal abortion services, and a society that allows women to determine their own reproductive choices. Addressing unintended pregnancy and its substantial human and dollar costs should be a priority in every country. The availability of reliable contraception for all, regardless of age or ability to pay, is an essential first step. Women and adolescents require access to age-appropriate and culturally sensitive reproductive health care services, including emergency contraception. Access to safe, legal abortion services is necessary to impact the staggering maternal mortality rates worldwide. Midwives throughout the world provide the majority of care for women of reproductive age. It is essential to identify those at risk for unintended pregnancy, provide the services they require, and remain diligent to ensure that those women and their families have safe options to consider when faced with an unintended pregnancy. In 1920, Magaret Sanger said, "No women can call herself free who does not control her own body." Although great strides have been made to improve the health and status of women since Ms. Sanger spoke those words, there remains much work to be done.

PIP: Unintended pregnancies (UPs) are a global problem with substantial negative consequences for women, their families, and society. In developing country settings, women who seek to abort UPs face the risk of serious long-term health effects, including infertility and maternal death. Access to contraceptive services (including emergency contraception), safe and legal abortion services, and societal norms that empower women to make their own reproductive choices are prerequisites to solving this problem. An essential first step is universal access to safe, reliable contraception regardless of age or ability to pay. Those at risk for UPs, especially adolescents, should be identified and targeted for special intervention.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Contraception*
  • Female
  • Global Health
  • Humans
  • Nurse Midwives*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy, Unwanted*
  • Women's Health*