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Episode 55: Tackling unwanted pregnancies: a conversation with Isabel Sawhill

October 10th, 2014

Episode 80 of 248 episodes

A staggering number of young women are having babies today who say they didn’t mean to get pregnant. New statistics from the Brookings Institution show that, among American women under age 30, more than 70% of pregnancies are unintended. In her new book, “Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage,” Brookings fellow Isabel Sawhill tackles the hot-button issues of poverty, contraception and having children out of wedlock. DecodeDC host Andrea Seabrook talked to her for our latest podcast. Here’s an edited excerpt from their conversation: Andrea Seabrook: You have a couple of different prescriptions for what the government should do. One seems to focus on the fertility of women, that women who want to make it into the middle class or to break this cycle, should be on long-term birth control. Tell me a little bit about that idea. Isabel Sawhill: Right now, the amount of unintended and unwanted pregnancies we have in the United States is enormous. Fifty percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. For single women under 30, unmarried women under 30, it’s 73%. So this is not a minor problem. This is the norm that people are having babies before they’re ready, and before they say themselves they want them. Think about the following statistics: If you and your partner are using a condom after five years, your chances of getting pregnant are 63%. People haven’t been told that. If you’re on the pill, your chances of getting pregnant after five years are 38%. Now if you’re on long acting contraceptives like the IUD or implant, your chances are 2% after five years. So it makes a huge difference what kind of contraception you use. We’ve had all of this debate about birth control, but very little discussion about how much difference it makes what kind you use. Andrea Seabrook: Your work is controversial. Some people seem to think, ‘Oh, she just doesn’t want those poor kids or those brown kids to have babies.’ What’s your response? Isabel Sawhill: This is a hugely important issue. So of course there’s huge sensitivity in this country to any suspicion that someone might be trying to prevent births to low income or minority women. And I looked at that issue very carefully and what I think people don’t realize is that the data show that rates of unintended and unwanted pregnancies are three or four times among low income women as they are amongst higher income women. The same for minority versus whites. Minority women are having huge rates of unintended pregnancy. Why shouldn't we want to empower them to align their fertility outcomes or behavior with what they really want? It’s not doing anybody a favor to allow them to have a child that came too soon or that they didn’t want. Want to keep up with the latest DecodeDC stories and podcasts? Sign up for our weekly newsletter at decodedc.com/newsletter.

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