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Yes, You Can Get Pregnant: Why You Shouldn't Skip Contraception

It's easy to think you're safe and don't need contraception—when you do.

Key points

  • Many unplanned pregnancies occur because women thought they couldn't get pregnant.
  • Women can get pregnant even if their period is irregular or if they're in their forties.
  • It's possible for abortion pills to be made available through a video visit.
Mustafa Omar/Unsplash
Source: Mustafa Omar/Unsplash

About half of all pregnancies in the United States aren't planned.

One important reason, according to a new study: Women skip contraception because they think they can't get pregnant.

The researchers drew upon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data for nearly 56,000 women with unintended births who were not using contraception at the time of their conception.

More than one-third of this group said they didn't think they could get pregnant. Some of them were older than 40. Others hadn't finished high school.

They tended to miss the signs that they were pregnant and were less likely than other women to get prenatal care in the first trimester—possibly setting them up for problems.

Why would women—and their partners—take a chance and assume they're safe from pregnancy? The simplest answer is wishful thinking. It's well-documented that people are biased against thinking unpleasant things are likely to happen to them. We've seen that at work in people who won't wear masks or turn down vaccination against COVID-19.

Important things to know:

  1. You can get pregnant even when you have your period. Let's say you have sex on the third day of bleeding. The sperm have no egg to fertilize, but they can stick around for up to five days, and by then, you may ovulate.
  2. You can get pregnant in your forties or even older. Pregnancy becomes impossible after you have 12 straight months without a period, which is the definition of menopause.
  3. You can get pregnant if your period is irregular. During perimenopause, the time leading up to menopause, you might miss periods. But if you've had unprotected sex and miss a period, check if you're pregnant—no matter your age. This is crucial if you have abdominal symptoms, which could be a sign of a life-threatening tubal pregnancy.
  4. You can get pregnant if you have premature ovarian failure.

How can I get an abortion?

Planned Parenthood clinics are available across the country. If you live far from a clinic, consider a video session with a doctor who can prescribe free or low-cost FDA-approved pills that induce abortion. These pills—called mifepristone and misoprostol—are 97 percent effective. You'll need to take them within 70 days from the first day of your last menstrual period. Depending on your state, you may be able to receive abortion pills at home.

Once you get in touch with Planned Parenthood, you can find out your options by video, phone, chat, or text. The main number is 1-800-230-PLAN.