According to a new United Nations study, around 121 million pregnancies worldwide are unintended each year, accounting for almost half of all pregnancies.
Researchers said that equated to about 331,000 unplanned pregnancies a day on average, as they warned the issue represented a “human rights crisis” that was having far-reaching implications for “societies, women and girls, and global health.”
The report, produced by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), finds that over 60 percent of unwanted pregnancies result in abortion, while an estimated 45 percent of all abortions worldwide are dangerous.
Researchers, whose United Nations agency strives to improve reproductive and maternal health, said about five to 13 percent of all maternal deaths are the byproduct of unsafe, clandestine abortions. The abortions are performed in contexts where abortion is illegal, severely restricted or too expensive to afford.
Rose Caldwell, chief executive of Plan International UK, said: “The scale of these figures is alarming, but the reality behind the figures is that far too many women and girls still have no choice about whether or not to conceive.
“They may be victims of abuse or exploitation; they may have been forced to marry early; or they lack access to modern contraception or the education they need to understand their own bodies.”
Ms Caldwell warned the situation represents a “global injustice” that world leaders are not taking enough action on.
She added: “The UK Government in particular should take these numbers as alarm bells. Last year it made cuts in foreign aid, including a shameful 85 percent cut in funding for sexual and reproductive health services.
“We have warned that the decision could harm thousands of women and girls and hamper the fight for gender equality. The Federal Foreign Office’s own assessment raises similar concerns. Despite this, the government pushed ahead with its plans.”
Ms Caldwell called on Rishi Sunak, the UK Chancellor, “to immediately reset the aid budget to 0.7 GNI and to urge the Foreign Secretary to deliver on her pledge to bring the budget for women and girls back to the pre-cut level as soon as possible.” “.
She added: “The government must ensure that the areas hardest hit by the cuts – including sexual and reproductive health and rights – are prioritized.”
The report found that gender inequality and disabled development are responsible for high levels of unwanted pregnancies around the world. Researchers warned that an estimated 257 million women around the world trying to avoid pregnancy do not have safe, modern forms of birth control.
“Where data are available, almost a quarter of all women cannot refuse sex,” researchers said.
Other important factors causing unwanted pregnancies have been identified by researchers as “sexual and reproductive health care and information, contraceptive options that do not suit women’s bodies or circumstances, harmful norms, and stigma against women who control their own fertility and bodies, and sexual violence and procreation called coercion”.
dr Natalia Kanem, UNFPA Executive Director, said: “This report is a wake-up call. The staggering number of unwanted pregnancies represents a global failure to uphold the basic human rights of women and girls.
“For the women involved, the most life-changing reproductive decision – to conceive or not – is not a choice at all. By putting the power to make this most fundamental choice squarely in the hands of women and girls, societies can ensure that motherhood is an aspiration, not an inevitability.”
UNFPA warned that the war that recently broke out in Ukraine and other global crises could fuel more unwanted pregnancies as women struggle to access contraceptives and sexual violence explodes.
dr Kanem said: “If you had 15 minutes to leave your house, what would you take with you? Would you get your passport? Food? Do you remember your birth control?
“In the days, weeks, and months after a crisis begins, sexual and reproductive health and protection services save lives, protect women and girls from harm, and prevent unwanted pregnancies. They are as vital as food, water and shelter.”