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February 18, 2002

Hogue studies links between contraception, religion

By Tia Webster


Although a number of national efforts have been launched to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies, most unintended and unwanted pregnancies occur in adults, according to Carol Hogue, professor of epidemiology in the Rollins School of Public Health.

“Sex education for teenagers is the norm, but there is virtually no sex education targeted at adults,” Hogue said. “All pregnancies should be intended—consciously desired at the time of conception.”

Americans are aware of the burden teenage pregnancies place on individuals, families and communities, but many are unaware of how this issue also involves adults. A national campaign, such as those similar to efforts used to discourage smoking or encourage seatbelt use, is needed to adopt new behaviors for adults and their sexual behavior, Hogue said.

“Many adults lack even the most basic information on human sexuality and contraception or they don’t have access to contraception,” she said. “Their access is limited due to finances, partner attitudes or religious constraints.”

Hogue currently is involved in a study to understand the role religion plays in the contraceptive practices of sexually active women. The study also will examine the determinants of unhappy pregnancies and whether the determinants differ culturally.

Hogue’s study is part of the collaborative research efforts of the University’s Center of Interdisciplinary Study of Religion. Emory scholars have joined in a two-year project on “Sex, Marriage and Family” in an effort to understand how the religions of Christianity, Islam and Judaism impact family life.

To collect data, Caucasian, African American and Hispanic women visiting health facilities for pregnancy tests are asked to complete anonymous questionnaires while they await their results. The preselected health facilities are rural clinics in Valley, Ala., and West Point, Ga., and two public health clinics in Cobb and Gwinnett counties.

“Examining a woman’s religious beliefs is a critical part of capturing a full understanding of her attitudes about an unintentional pregnancy,” Hogue said. “Because, ultimately, unintentional pregnancies can mean unhappy pregnancies.

“Unhappy pregnancies may open the door to future public health issues like abortions, divorce and reduced parenting resources for other children,” she said. “This is primarily a problem for adult women, not teenagers.”