Despite Widespread Contraceptive Use, 1/3 of Pregnancies in France ‘Unplanned,’ New Study Confirms

By Karen Schuberg | October 15, 2009 | 7:02pm EDT

Baby at 5 months gestation

( – Despite the legalization of contraception in France in 1967 and its widespread use in the country today, the number of “unplanned pregnancies” there is 36 percent, according to a new study.
In its study, “After 40 Years of Contraceptive Freedom, Why So Many Unplanned Pregnancies in France?” the Institut National D’Etudes Demographiques (National Institute of Demographics Studies) concluded that despite “improved fertility control, one-third of pregnancies in France are unintended.” 
While the number of unplanned pregnancies in France has declined since the 1960s as the number of planned pregnancies has increased, according to the study, the large number of “poorly planned or unwanted births” is high “and confirms the fact that no contraceptive method is totally reliable.”
The percentage of French women who use the contraceptive pill is around 60 percent today. Many French women also use the IUD, the rhythm method, and abortion, “a final result in the event of unwanted pregnancy, [which] is an unacceptable solution for some women, though it still plays a major role in birth control,” the study reported.  
“In France, in 2004, 211,000 induced abortions were notified for 768,000 births,” the study noted. “Given that the share of therapeutic abortions (due to medical complications) is no more than 2%, it can be assumed that practically all abortions correspond to unintended pregnancies (poorly planned or unwanted).”
The study further reported that it added the number of unwanted births to the number of abortions, showing that 24 percent of pregnancies in France are “unwanted.” Then, it added the “poorly planned” or “out of the blue” pregnancies to produce an estimated total of 36 percent of pregnancies that are “unintended.”
The report says that when abortion was legalized in 1974, legislators hoped that improved family planning resulting from contraceptive use would lead to a gradual decline in abortions.
Abortions did decrease from 1975 to1990 with the surge of hormonal contraceptive use, the report claims. However, it is reported that abortions then “leveled off at a relatively high level compared with other countries of western and northern Europe.”
A spokesman for Human Life International, a Catholic pro-life organization, told that the reported correlation between contraceptive growth and falling abortion numbers from 1975 to 1990 “is not supported by any data” that it could find, said the group’s spokesman Joseph Meaney.
“Rather, what one finds is the trend that we see in every country that adopts legalized abortion,” he said, “a steady increase followed by a plateau after women age-out of the cohort in question and are not replaced as quickly by younger women, since there are of course fewer women (and men) born due to the widespread use of contraception and abortion (and other related issues, such as infertility, a common result of women having multiple abortions).”
When the percentage of women using contraception increases as the total number of women in the cohort decreases, a plateau-ing effect results, and “sometimes a slight decrease in the abortion rate after several years of a plateau,” Meaney said.
The rapid secularization of France with its concomitant decrease in religious scruples could account for the rise in abortion numbers, Meaney said.
Meaney further said that the new study notes the seemingly counterintuitive finding that abortions do not decrease with the increase of contraceptive use – rather, the opposite results. 
He explained, “Alan Guttmacher, founder of the research arm of Planned Parenthood, the Guttmacher Institute, admitted some time ago that the widespread use of contraception would lead to an increase, not a decrease, in recourse to abortion because all forms of contraception fail in some cases, and abortion would be needed to ‘be a back-up’ for contraception.”
Meaney added that the paradoxical effect of increased contraceptive use on rising abortion figures “matches precisely the then-mocked predictions of Pope Paul VI in his controversial 1967 encyclical, Humanae Vitae.”
The idea that the liberalization of contraception will tamp down abortions in the long run is baseless, said Meaney, adding that “history has taught us that the exact opposite is almost universally true.”
The report said: “The propensity to terminate an unwanted pregnancy seems to have increased in parallel with the progress of birth control. As planned childbearing became the norm, unintended pregnancies became increasingly difficult to accept.”
The study also noted that the legalization of contraception and abortion have “weakened the link between sexuality and fertility.”
“It has become ‘normal’ to be free from the risk of unwanted pregnancy,” the report stated. “More than 8 births in 10 today are ‘planned,’ sometimes down to the finest detail.”
The number of abortions usually decreases when there is less premarital sex and more state-level restrictions on abortion as was observed in the United States in the 1990s, according to Meaney.
He also mentioned the impact of economics. “There tend to be more abortions during hard economic times, and in France, economic growth has been stagnant for decades now,” Meaney said.
The Guttmacher Institute declined to comment, telling on Monday, “Our experts are all tied up in the launch of a new report, which is being released tomorrow night, so we do not have anyone available to review this study and provide comment this week.”
Planned Parenthood did not respond to inquiries on this story.
This week, the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion access, released a report claiming increased contraceptive use worldwide has led to fewer abortions. It also reported that an estimated 70,000 women die each year from botched abortions.
To counter this disturbing tend, the institute recommends expanding access to effective contraception and family planning services, legalizing abortion in restrictive areas, and amping up post-abortive care “which would reduce maternal death and complications from unsafe abortion.”
The Guttmacher Institute, on its Web site for October, reported that there were approximately 42 million induced abortions worldwide in 2003, down from 46 million in 1995.

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