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Survey: Recession affecting decisions to have children

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WILLMAR -- More women are seeking to delay pregnancy or have fewer children because of the economic impact of the recession.

Many of them also report being worse off financially than they were a year ago, and there's a small percent who are sometimes skipping birth control because of the cost.

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The newly released report by the Guttmacher Institute provides a snapshot of how the recession is affecting women's health decisions -- findings that are echoed in what Planned Parenthood has been observing at its clinics in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

"What we're seeing is something very similar," said spokeswoman Kathi Di Nicola. "Women are saying they're losing their jobs. They're worse off financially. ... Much of it is what we're seeing day after day in our clinics and have been seeing for a year or more."

Birth trends at Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar don't immediately suggest an economy-related baby bust.

The number of births at the hospital this year is close to last year's number, said Bev Weflen, care manager for the hospital's women's and children's unit.

As of Friday, nearly 700 babies have been born this year at Rice. Last year the hospital recorded a total of 856 births, Weflen said.

Between 800 and 900 babies are delivered at Rice each year, she said. "It looks like we're going to be in that ballpark this year."

The hospital's statistics aren't necessarily a direct indication of the economy's impact on reproductive decisions.

Couples who want to start a family or have another child don't have unlimited time to do so, Weflen said.

"When they feel like they want a child, somehow, some way, they'll find the funds for it, even if it means accepting public funding," she said.

The Guttmacher Institute survey reveals, however, that economic conditions are very much on women's minds and may be influencing their decisions and behavior.

The national study involved 947 women ages 18 to 34 and was conducted in July and August.

Among the findings: Nearly three out of four women reported worrying more about money. Half were earning less or were less well off financially than the year before.

Forty-four percent wanted to reduce or delay their childbearing because of the economy. This was more common among women who reported greater financial struggles and lower-income women.

The survey found it was also getting harder for women to afford birth control. Almost one in four women in the survey -- and one in three among women who were financially worse off -- reported greater difficulties paying for birth control, which many health insurance plans don't cover.

A small but worrisome number, 8 percent, said they sometimes skipped birth control in order to save money. This cost-cutting was more likely to occur among women who were less well off financially.

The survey reinforces what has been occurring at Planned Parenthood's 27 clinics in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota, Di Nicola said.

"What surprised us was how closely it related to what we're seeing with our clients," she said. "The economy is affecting our patients in a very profound way. For many patients, it's the only doctor they see at all."

These challenges are often magnified for rural women, who also face geographic barriers and less access to health care providers, Di Nicola said.

At Planned Parenthood in Willmar, the typical client is in her 20s and earns less than $11,000 a year. More than 90 percent of the Willmar clinic's patients are eligible for free or very low-cost services.

"In looking ahead, we realize there's a lot of work to do to make sure women have access to affordable health care, no matter where they live," Di Nicola said.

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Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at http://healthbeat.areavoices.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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