Co-habitation and Abortion
Yesterday Guttmacher Institute, a sexual and reproductive health public policy institute, released a report (PDF) on demographic information of women seeking abortions in the United States. Jodi Jacobson already did a fantastic job of looking at the numbers — the number of poor women seeking an abortion have increased by nearly 60 percent since the study was last done in 2000. It’s not surprising, considering that all women in poverty also increased by 25 percent over that same period of time.
But there was one interesting point that I thought was worth pulling out a little bit more. The study also talks about women who obtained abortions may not fit into the stereotype of a woman who made a mistake on a one-night stand. The Guttmacher study notes that nearly half of all women obtaining an abortion had been in a relationship for a year or longer with the man who had impregnated her. Although unmarried women make up the vast majority of those seeking an abortion (85 percent), 29 percent of those women were co-habitating with their partners.
Co-habiting women also have above-average rates of contraceptive failure and unintended births. Future research might help uncover the relationship dynamics that contribute to these patterns. For example, do cohabiting couples have sex more frequently than other groups, use less effective methods or use their methods less consistently? Does the “less legal” status of the relationship make discussing or agreeing upon childbearing goals harder for cohabiting couples? Are unintended pregnancies more common among cohabiting couples who already have one or more children than among cohabiting couples with no children? At any given point, only a small proportion of women are in cohabiting relationships (8%), but at least half will occupy this relationship status at some point in their lives.
This is interesting because abortion is usually framed as a women’s issue (and as only a woman’s issue), but the Guttmacher study indicates that abortion is likely more related to couples. The issue definitely deserves further exploration and may even shift the discussion from how women feel about abortion to how couples decide what to do with an unintended pregnancy.
Kay Steiger is the editor of CampusProgress.org.