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PREGNANCY & CHILDBIRTH | Wall Street Journal Examines Unplanned Pregnancy Among Older Women

PREGNANCY & CHILDBIRTH | Wall Street Journal Examines Unplanned Pregnancy Among Older Women
[May 6, 2008]

Wall Street Journal columnist Johanna Bennett on Saturday examined unplanned pregnancies among older women in the U.S. and related health risks. According to Bennett, it is "not clear" how many women older than age 44 become pregnant because there is "little data" collected nationwide on pregnancy, abortion, miscarriages or contraceptive use among the group. CDC found that from 2000 to 2005, the number of live births among women ages 45 to 54 increased by 45% to 6,536, representing less than 1% of all live births in the U.S.

A survey conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics in 2001 -- the most recent data available -- found that about 40% of pregnancies among women ages 40 and older are unintended, and 56% of those pregnancies end in abortion. The survey also found that 7% of women between the ages of 40 and 44 had recently had sex without birth control but did not want to become pregnant.

Johns Hopkins Medicine found that women at age 45 have a 1% chance of conceiving using their own eggs, Bennett writes, adding, "Given such odds, it's no wonder many sexually active women over age 40 don't practice birth control." In addition, women with health problems have fewer choices in terms of contraception, according to Bennett. She notes that becoming pregnant and having an infant "later in life also comes with some increased health risks" for both the woman and infant. Bennett adds that compared to younger women, older women are more likely to have a miscarriage, experience problems during delivery, develop gestational diabetes and give birth to infants with genetic birth defects.

Vanessa Cullins, vice president of medical affairs for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said, "It's very common that women don't realize they still need to worry about birth control even after they hit their 40s and move into their 50s." She added, "Until they complete menopause, which means going 12 months without menstruating, women should consider themselves to still be fertile" (Bennett, Wall Street Journal, 5/3).