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January 30, 2002


Unintended Pregnancies More Common for Adult Women Than Teenagers

Emory Epidemiologist Researches Link to Religion and Contraceptive Practices

Although a number of national efforts have been launched to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies, the most unintended and unwanted pregnancies occur in adults, says Emory University epidemiologist Carol Hogue, Ph.D., M.P.H., professor, Rollins School of Public Health.

"Sex education for teenagers is the norm, but there is virtually no sex education targeted at adults," Hogue says. "All pregnancies should be intended — consciously desired at the time of conception."

Americans are aware of the burden that teenage pregnancies place on individuals, families and communities, but unaware of how this issue also involves adults. A national campaign, such as those similar to efforts used to discourage smoking or encourage seatbelt use, is needed to adopt new behaviors for adults and their sexual behavior, Hogue says.

"Many adults lack even the most basic information on human sexuality and contraception or they don't have access to contraception. Their access is limited due to finances, partner attitudes or religious constraints." Hogue is currently involved in a study to understand the role religion plays in the contraceptive practices of sexually active women. The study will also examine the determinants of unhappy pregnancies and - whether the determinants differ culturally.

Hogue's study is part of the collaborative research efforts of the Emory Center of Interdisciplinary Study of Religion. Emory scholars have joined in a two-year project on "Sex, Marriage and Family" in an effort to understand how the religions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism impact family life.

To collect data, Caucasian, African-American and Hispanic women visiting health facilities for pregnancy tests are asked to complete anonymous questionnaires while they await their results. The pre-selected health facilities are rural clinics of Valley, Alabama and West Point, Georgia and two public health clinics in the metropolitan Atlanta counties of Cobb and Gwinnett.

"Examining a woman's religious beliefs is a critical part of capturing a full understanding of her attitudes about an unintentional pregnancy. Because ultimately, unintentional pregnancies can mean unhappy pregnancies," Hogue speculates.

"Unhappy pregnancies may open the door to future public health issues like abortions, divorce and reduced parenting resources for other children," she continues. "This is primarily a problem for adult women, not teenagers."

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