A Washington University study recently concluded when women gained free access to a wide array of birth control options, they sought dramatically fewer abortions, and far fewer teens became pregnant.
The project, which provided free birth control to more than 9,000 teen girls and women, also saw 75 percent of participants choosing longer-acting and more highly-effective methods of contraception such as hormonal implants and intrauterine devices. In fact, a previous Washington University study found the two methods can be 20 times more effective in preventing pregnancy than the pill, patch or ring.
More than 9,000 St. Louis women, many poor and uninsured, were tracked during the study. They were given a choice of contraceptive methods at no cost. The study found when unconcerned about price, most women chose the more effective contraceptives, which generally cost hundreds of dollars to obtain. During the course of the study, from 2008 to 2010, those women experienced dramatically fewer unintended pregnancies.
The affects on teens were also remarkable. Only 6.3 teens for every 1,000 became pregnant during the study, compared to a national average of 34 births for every 1,000 teens in 2010.
The lower abortion rates, however, make a case for free birth control advocates. Between 4.4 and 7.5 women for every 1,000 in the study sought an abortion, compared with the average in St. Louis of 13.4 to 17 abortions for every 1,000 women, the study’s author Jeffrey Peipert said. The national abortion rate is close to 20 abortions for 1,000 women.
According to Peipert’s report in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, if the program were expanded, access to free long-term contraceptives could prevent one abortion for every 79 to 137 women.
The results of the study come as millions of American women are on the cusp of gaining access to contraception with no co-pay under a provision of the Affordable Care Act promoted by President Obama. Under the law, FDA-approved contraceptives must be available at no cost to women through their workplace insurance plans effective Jan. 1.
The provision of the law is highly-contested, however. Although it exempts churches opposed to contraception, religious-affiliated businesses such as hospitals and universities must provide the coverage to their employees. Many conservative groups argue the law violates their religious freedom and have filed suit to challenge the law. A St. Louis federal judge dismissed such a suit this week.
James Breeden, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, however, feels the Washington University study supports the free birth control provision of the law. He noted the amazing improvement in abortion rates when speaking to the Associate Press, adding that, based on the study’s results, those who oppose abortion should support contraception access.
Still others feel free access to birth control will have a negative impact on women’s sexuality. Jeanne Monahan, a conservative representative of the Family Research Council told the AP contraceptive use can encourage riskier sexual behavior, and the ACA mandate might ultimately lead to more unplanned pregnancies.
Peipert disagrees. He says we should not have a system where women with money can afford birth control and women without money cannot receive family planning options.
Peipert noted that although 75 percent of the women in his study chose longer-acting contraceptives, only about 5 percent of U.S. women use the more effective options. According to Peipert, IUD and implants insertions have not always been covered by insurance plans, despite the long-term cost of birth control pills adding up to about the same price. Furthermore, doctors don’t always advise patients of the two options, even though half of the unplanned pregnancies in the U.S. each year result after condom or other shorter-term birth control methods such as the pill fail if the woman forgets or can’t afford to refill the prescription.
An IUD, on the other hand, can last from five to 10 years, but can also be removed if the woman decides to plan a pregnancy. Likewise, Implanon, a tiny implant under the skin of the arm, can last three years.
“IUDs, implants are most effective birth control.” Washington University in St. Louis. http://news.wustl.edu/news/Pages/23899.aspx
“Abortion Rates Plummet with Free Birth Control.” Science Daily. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/10/121004200908.htm
“Study: Free birth Control leads to fewer Abortions.” Associated Press via St. Louis Post Dispatch. http://www.stltoday.com/news/science/study-free-birth-control-leads-to-fewer-abortions/article_e80dff92-58bf-5e7e-a9c4-a4f55185d26c.html