While access to birth control and preventive education programs are the two most effective measures in reducing unplanned pregnancies, our state severely lacks equity in both (Pew Research). In 2022, almost 50% of pregnancies in Tennessee were unplanned – often a result of not using contraception at all or inconsistent or incorrect use of contraception.
Access to Contraception
Annually in Tennessee, more than 719,000 individuals need support accessing contraception due to barriers related to their socioeconomic status, marginalized racial/ethnic identities, geography, and health care insurance status (Guttmacher, 2014). Over 400,000 “in need” Tennessee individuals live in contraceptive deserts, which are defined as “counties that lack reasonable access to the full range of [contraceptive] methods” (Power to Decide).
The result of unplanned pregnancies resulting from no form of contraception are directly linked to 1) poor maternal (e.g., postpartum depression and parental stress) and infant (e.g., low birthweight) health outcomes, 2) increase in adverse childhood experiences, and 3) family instability.
The percentage of unintended pregnancies is higher among:
- Non-Hispanic Black females, who have a prevalence more than twice that of non-Hispanic white females.
- Females with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level compared with females with higher incomes.
- Females without a high school education compared with females with higher educational attainment.
- Unmarried and cohabiting females, who have a prevalence more than four times that of married females.
Access to Reproductive Health Education
An alarming lack of reproductive health literacy programs result in individuals being completely unaware of contraceptive methods, community resources to access it, as well as basic reproductive health knowledge.
There are countless benefits to providing reproductive health education to individuals who want it. For one, it is valuable for folks who didn’t receive comprehensive health education in their adolescent years and now want to fill in the gaps in their knowledge. Likewise, reproductive health education is crucial to prevent gender-based violence and discrimination against females. It can contribute to combating homophobia and transphobia - creating a safer and more inclusive community for all. Reproductive health education classes are also an ideal context for raising awareness about the sexual and reproductive health and rights of females, including access to contraception.