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To describe the characteristics and risk factors of women with only third-trimester (late) or no prenatal care.A statewide postpartum survey was conducted that included 6364 low-income women delivering in California hospitals in 1994 and 1995.The following factors appeared most important, considering both prevalence and association with late or no care: poverty, being uninsured, multiparity, being unmarried, and unplanned pregnancy. Forty-two percent of women with no care were uninsured, and uninsured women were at dramatically increased risk of no care. Over 40% of uninsured women with no care had applied for Medi-Cal prenatally but did not receive it. Risks did not vary by ethnicity except that African American women were at lower risk of late care than women of European background. Child care problems were not significantly associated with either late or no care, and transportation problems (not asked of women with no care) were not significantly related to late care.Lack of insurance appeared to be a significant barrier for the 40% of women with no care who unsuccessfully applied for Medi-Cal prenatally, indicating a need to address barriers to Medi-Cal enrollment. However, lack of financial access is unlikely to completely explain the dramatic risks associated with being uninsured. In addition to eliminating barriers to prenatal coverage, policies to reduce late/no care should focus on pre-pregnancy factors (e.g., planned pregnancy and poverty reduction) rather than on logistical barriers during pregnancy.