Providing free, reliable birth
control to women could prevent between 41 percent and 71 percent of
abortions in the United States, new research finds.
In a study published today (Oct. 4) in the journal Obstetrics and
Gynecology, researchers provided free methods of reversible, reliable
contraception to more than 9,000 teens and women in the St. Louis area.
They found that the program reduced the abortion rate among these women
by 62 percent to 78 percent.
"The impact of providing no-cost birth control
was far greater than we expected in terms of unintended pregnancies,"
lead author Jeff Peipert, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at
the Washington University School of Medicine, said in a statement. "We
think improving access to birth control, particularly IUDs [intrauterine
devices] and [hormone] implants, coupled with education on the most
effective methods, has the potential to significantly decrease the
number of unintended pregnancies and abortions in this country."
The findings have implications for public policy, especially given
that President Obama's health-care plan requires employers to offer
plans that include birth control coverage. This requirement has been a
point of controversy in the lead-up to the 2012 election.
Between 2006 and 2008, 49 percent of all pregnancies in America were
unplanned, according to the CDC's National Survey of Family Growth.
About 43 percent of these unintended pregnancies ended in abortion.
Meanwhile, a 2011 study in the journal Contraception estimated that
unintended births cost U.S. taxpayers about $11 billion a year.
To see if access to free contraception could budge those numbers,
Peipert and his colleagues recruited 9,256 women ages 14 to 45 living in
the St. Louis area through flyers, doctors and word-of-mouth. They also
recruited patients from the city's two abortion clinics. Participants
were given the option of using any reversible birth control method, from
the birth control pill to a hormonal birth control patch to a
long-lasting IUD or hormonal implant. [7 Surprising Facts About the Pill]
More than half of the women chose IUDs, 17 percent picked hormonal
implants (tiny rods placed under the skin that release hormones), and
the rest chose pills, patches and other hormonal methods. As a result,
the researchers found, both teen births and overall abortion rates plummeted.
Among women in the free contraceptive program, the teen birth rate
was 6.3 per 1,000 women, a huge difference from the national teen birth
rate of 34.3 per 1,000 women
Likewise, the abortion rate among women in the program was 4.4 to 7.5
per 1,000 between 2008 and 2010. Nationally, there are 19.6 abortions
per every thousand women, a 62 percent to 78 percent difference. In the
St. Louis area, the overall abortion rate in that time frame was between
13.4 and 17 abortions per 1,000 women.
The study highlights the importance of long-acting contraception methods such as the IUD, researchers said. Birth control pills
have a higher failure rate than these methods, because women have to
remember to take a pill at the same time every day. But IUDs, which last
about 10 years, can cost more than $800, the researchers said, putting
them out of reach for many lower-income women who may not be able to
come up with that kind of money in one lump sum.
"Unintended pregnancy remains a major health problem in the United
States, with higher proportions among teenagers and women with less
education and lower economic status," Peipert said. "The results of this
study demonstrate that we can reduce the rate of unintended pregnancy and this is key to reducing abortions in this country." Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter@sipappasor LiveScience @livescience. We're also on Facebook& Google+.