Unintended pregnancy

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The term unintended pregnancy is used for a pregnancy that is unplanned and unwanted at the time of conception.

There are two aspects to this:

  • The unplanned aspect indicates that the mother was not actively trying to conceive at the time.
  • The unwanted aspect suggests that, with foreknowledge that the particular activity (typically, sexual intercourse) would lead to pregnancy, she would not engage in the activity.

The distinction between unplanned and unwanted

Note that the "unplanned" standard includes a wider range of pregnancies than the "unwanted" standard. For instance, a couple that wants to have children but is agnostic about the timing, and simply has unprotected sex regularly with "having children" as one of the probabilistically possible outcomes (but unlikely in any given instance of intercourse), might be said to have had an unplanned pregnancy, but the pregnancy is not unwanted.

Mistimed pregnancy

A mistimed pregnancy refers to a situation where the mother was indeed hoping to conceive but not at the specific time that she did. Mistimed pregnancies can be considered a special case of unwanted pregnancies, but it is sometimes useful to view them as their own category, because aborting a mistimed pregnancy is less likely to affect the female's completed fertility than aborting an unwanted pregnancy of any other type.

The "at the time of conception" clause

The term unintended pregnancy refers to the mother's attitude at the time of conception. Attitudes may change between the time of conception and the time of birth, or even after the time of birth. In particular:

  • Pregnancies that are unwanted at the time of conception may lead to children who are wanted at the time of birth: The mother may adjust to the idea of having the baby and fall in love with it during the pregnancy. Note also the endowment effect.
  • Pregnancies that are wanted at the time of conception may become unwanted during the course of the pregnancy. Reasons may include a relationship breakup between the parents, other changes to personal circumstances (such as job loss) that make raising a child difficult, and discovery that the child has some genetic or congenital diseases.