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One in eight pregnancies described as a crisis - study

A new survey shows that crisis pregnancy is a growing issue for Irish women – and men.

Image: David Jones/PA Wire/Press Association Images

ABOUT ONE IN three women living in Ireland in 2010 who had ever been pregnant have described at least one of their pregnancies as a crisis.

A major new study, carried out by the HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme with the Royal College of Surgeons, has shown that one in five men have also experienced a crisis pregnancy.

Overall, one in every eight pregnancies (or 13 per cent of all pregnancies) is a crisis one for women. They are less frequent for men, with one in 11 described as a crisis.

While the pregnancy rate for women under 25 has remained relatively stable over the last 10 years, a higher proportion of these women are defining their pregnancies as crisis pregnancies in the 2010 survey, compared to an earlier survey. In 2003, 52 per cent of young women who had been pregnant said that their pregnancy was a crisis pregnancy. In the 2010 survey, this figure had increased to 66 per cent.

Younger women with a pre-Leaving Certificate education are more likely than older women or women with higher levels of schooling to have gone through a crisis pregnancy, the study found.

For both men and women, the main reasons for categorising a pregnancy as a crisis one is they were “too young” or it was “not planned”.

Due to the economic climate, financial reasons were cited a lot more often when compared with a similar 2003 survey tracking sexual behaviours and outcomes.

As has been previously indicated, the instances of crisis pregnancies decreased with age as the majority were noted in the 18 to 25 age group. The average age of a person experiencing a crisis pregnancy was 24.8 years for men and 23.6 years for women.

The use of alcohol and drugs at the time of conception was not cited as often during this survey as in the previous 2003 study.

Director of the HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme, Dr. Stephanie O’Keeffe said, “Crisis pregnancy is still an issue for women living in Ireland, although for perhaps different reasons than it was in the past.

More young women in the 2010 survey reported that they viewed their pregnancy as a crisis because they were “too young”, even though the majority of these pregnancies were occurring to women in their mid-twenties. This may be indicative of cultural changes regarding the most desirable age to have a baby.

The average age of first-time mothers has increased in recent years. While women are less likely nowadays to define a pregnancy as a crisis because they are not married, the proportion of women reporting that the pregnancy was a crisis for financial reasons has increased from 2 per cent in 2003 to 9 per cent in 2010, which is reflective of the current economic climate.

Outcomes

The proportion of pregnancies ending in a live birth has decreased in Ireland from 82 per cent in 2003 to 74 per cent in 2010.

There were significantly more miscarriages, with 13 per cent of pregnancies ending in this way. The jump could not be explained scientifically by the researchers but anecdotally mentioned the older age categories of mothers and an increased awareness of fertility issues, meaning more miscarriages may now be reported.

Those pregnancies ending in abortion also increased from 2 per cent to 4 per cent. Just one per cent of pregnancies resulted in stillbirth or adoption.

Of those described as crisis pregnancies, about 21 per cent ended in abortion. About 62 per cent resulted in parenthood for the women and 54 per cent for men.

When asked hypothetically what they would do if they were faced with an unplanned pregnancy, about 26 per cent of respondents said they were unsure. About 68 per cent would choose parenthood, 4 per cent an abortion and just 2 per cent would go down the adoption route.

A global challenge

The authors of the report, Irish Contraception and Crisis Pregnancy Study, said that reducing the number of unplanned or unwanted pregnancies is a global challenge.

It is estimated that approximately half of all pregnancies across the world are unplanned.

The ICCP defines a crisis pregnancy as one that started as a emotional or personal trauma, even if the crisis was subsequently resolved or one that developed because of a change in circumstances as the pregnancy develops.

Men and women who experienced a crisis pregnancy reported greater psychological distress at the time of the crisis pregnancy, compared with the general population in the 2010 survey.

The report said “a small – but significant – group of women reported feeling very nervous, downhearted and blue, or so down in the dumps that nothing could cheer them up” at times during their crisis pregnancy. Of the over 1,500 surveyed, 27 admitted to having thoughts of harming themselves or “ending it all”.

Attitude to abortion

In keeping with a variety of opinion polls on abortion, the vast majority (over 85 per cent) of both men and women surveyed in 2010 agreed that a woman should have the choice of an abortion if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest or if it endangers her health or life.

Less support was evident for an abortion if the child has a serious abnormality, if the couple are not married or in a stable relationship or if the copule cannot afford another child.

Following reports that the sourcing of illegal abortifacients is becoming more common, the ICCP included a question on awareness of so-called abortion pills.

About 75 per cent were aware they were illegal but a small minority said they had used the substances in Ireland.

Of those surveyed, 68 women had experienced an abortion. About 14 per cent had undergone two separate terminations and just one woman reported more than two abortions.

Ninety-four per cent of these women travelled to the UK for the procedures. UK Department of Health figures suggest that the rate of Irish women travelling to England and Wales decreased in the seven year period. However, there is anecdotal evidence that some women are opting to go to the Netherlands, Spain and Belgium for terminations.

Read: Irish Contraception and Crisis Pregnancy Study 2010 (in full)>

More: Young people in Ireland using contraception more consistently>

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