A new study shows that U.S. women actively serving in the military have lower reported contraception use and higher rates of unintended pregnancy than the general U.S. population.
According to the study, women now make up 20% of new military recruits, 15% of active-duty military personnel, and 17% of reserve and National Guard forces. A 2005 U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) survey showed that 16.29% of military women 20 years old or younger reported an unintended pregnancy that year, while the general U.S. population’s rate was 7.1% for the same age group.
“Because of its potentially high burden for military women as well as the impact on military operations, prevention of unintended pregnancy is one reproductive health issue of particular importance,” said Dr. Vinita Goyal, lead author of the study and assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Women and Infants Hospital. “For the women, who face barriers to early prenatal care and abortion services in the military, unwanted pregnancy restricts their career achievement potential and limits their earning capacity.
“Health care providers within the community, as well as those in the DOD and Veteran’s Administration (VA), need to be aware of the reproductive health needs of this population.”
Goyal cited several factors that may play into the high unintended pregnancy rate for women in the military, stating that they are predominantly young, unmarried racial minorities of lower education achievement and lower socioeconomic status. The lower rate of contraceptive use was also a major factor.
“(Research shows that) 50 to 62% of servicewomen presenting with an unintended pregnancy were not using contraception when they conceived,” said Goyal. “Similar surveys of active-duty personnel of reproductive age demonstrate that although 70 to 85% were sexually active, nearly 40% used no contraception.”
Goyal stated that a possible cause for the low contraceptive use includes a lack of confidence in contraceptive knowledge of overseas military medical personnel. She also cited the Uniform Military Code of Justice’s prohibition on adultery, for which contraceptives can be viewed as incriminating evidence.
The study, published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology, included an overview of the reproductive health care available to U.S. women in the military, both domestically and abroad.