Unintended, unplanned, unwanted, terminated
It comes as a shock to learn that 40% of all new-borns are unintended. This comes from a study by the Guttmacher Institute covered in more detail in an article elsewhere in this edition.
As with all studies that make global claims, I always entertain questions about methodology, reliability of the underlying data, and subsequent conclusions. On this particular study, I do not have any detailed information but I do not think a reputable institution will go public with its findings if it doubted its own work. From the information available, I infer that the study must have been repeated for a number of years, as it compares more recent data to earlier years indicating some progression over more than one cycle.
Nevertheless, the report based on the study uses the very interesting word “unintended” to describe pregnancies that are unplanned. Immediately I can think of a myriad of hermeneutical difficulties, translating this concept into dozens of languages, which of course, is a necessity if a researcher wants to test certain parametres globally.
Fertility is one of those underlying fundamentals in which I have a keen interest. But it must be understood that fertility is mostly an economic concept and it refers to population growth in absolute terms as well as rate of growth. These are concept that most people are familiar with despite the common confusion between fertility and pregnancy.
Fertility measures certain changes in the number of individuals in a chosen segment or population. It is related to demographics and it does not intend to make any ethical or social claims.
Pregnancy, on the contrary is a biological concept with many nuances that spill over to the societal, the ethical, the moral and both the spiritual and mental spheres of our lives. So when a researcher says a certain percentage of pregnancies are unintended, we need to carefully separate the various strings plaited into the premise before we jump to any conclusions.
First of all, I ask myself, what is the difference between unintended and unwanted. From a practical point of view, an unintended pregnancy is a fairly neutral concept while an unwanted pregnancy certainly carries a negative connotation.
I know many young couples who do not necessarily plan when to start a family but sort of go with the flow. When the woman gets pregnant, it happens and the expecting couple usually is delighted. But it still qualifies as unintended, or at least unsynchronised with the rest of their lives at that given moment.
But unfortunately, I also know many young and not-so-young women who have become pregnant, unintended. The sad reality is that these pregnancies quickly become unwanted, and the Guttmacher report states a number of ways in which such pregnancies are terminated. This is an issue with severe moral implications and must be addressed by institutions whose professional ambit covers the dynamics of family planning, psychology, wellness and social services.
The report makes the very strong point that some 85 million people arrive in this world every year unintended. Without going any deeper into semantics, one must assume that a significant portion of these 85 million infants will turn out to be unwanted toddlers, unwanted youngsters, and eventually unwanted children. Within a mere 12 years, another billion people then join the global population with one exceedingly strong handicap, – they are unwanted. Add them to the already unwanteds existing by the million in poor societies, and it seems we have a veritable and growing problem on our hands.
The obvious question begs: how does one prevent unintended pregnancies. For that the report also has an answer in a roundabout way – investment in contraceptive services, whatever the detail of such investment may entail. To me it sounds a bit vague, but contraception itself is not a vague concept. The only problem is that usually it is only considered as a serious remedy after the woman has become pregnant, or after she has already born too many children.
In the end, pregnancy is about prosperity. When a couple chooses to have a child or children, I think the basic consideration must be that they are in a position to take care of that child, both financially and emotionally. I realise this is easier said than done and if couples, or dating women had to wait until everything is in place, then possibly the human race would slowly decline.
It breaks my heart when I drive around in my own country and I see so many thousands of neglected children roaming the streets. Then I realise the battle to turn unintended pregnancies into wanted families, is a very stiff uphill battle. But I also realise that I must never stop telling people about the consequences of unintended babies.