Missouri's rate of unplanned pregnancies and abortions fell dramatically when women and teenaged girls were provided birth control at no cost, a new study found,
“As a society, we want to reduce unintended pregnancies and abortion rates,” explained Alina Salganicoff, director of women’s health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, according to Fox Latino news. “This study has demonstrated that having access to no-cost contraception helps us get to that goal.”
Family planning advocates say the study shows the potential of the health reform law (now known by both supporters and opponents as Obamacare) to reduce unplanned pregnancies nationwide, WebMD Health News reported.
Unplanned pregnancies are a major problem in the United States. Half result from a failure to use birth control while the other half are due to inconsistent or incorrect use of birth control and contraceptive failure.
Nearly half of the nation’s 6 million-plus pregnancies are unintended each year, far higher than in other developed countries.
The disparity has existed for decades, Fox news reported. Several experts say the reason mostly has to do with access to birth control.
Birth control is less expensive and easier for teens to get in many other developed countries than in the United States. And teachers, parents and physicians tend to be more accepting of teenage sexuality and more likely to encourage use of contraception, said Sarah Brown, chief executive of the Washington, D.C.-based National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
A lack of access to reliable birth control is a major factor behind the three million unplanned pregnancies in the United States every year.
Low-income women are more likely to have an unplanned pregnancy than wealthier women.
Study removed inequality barrier
The new study, The Contraceptive CHOICE Project, published online Thursday in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, provided counseling and free birth control to 9,256 teenage girls and women in the St. Louis area from 2007 until 2011.
Participants were 14-45 years of age, at risk for unintended pregnancy, and willing to start a new contraceptive method, many of them were uninsured.
They were given the option to select from a range of contraceptive methods. Many women selected IUDs or contraceptive implants when cost was not an issue.
In that group, free birth control dropped abortion rates by more than 62 percent and teen birth rates were about one sixth the national average, according to lead researcher Dr. Jeffrey Peipert, CBS St.Louis reported.
In other words, if the same results were replicated across the United States, free birth control could prevent 1,060,370 unplanned pregnancies and 873,250 abortions a year, AFP said.
One reason for the significant improvement is because 75 percent of the women in the study chose to use long-acting methods such as implants and intrauterine devices (IUDs), Peipert said.
“The big decrease is, we think, is because 1) contraception was very available and at no cost 2) women in this project were using the most effective methods of contraception. 75 percent were using the IUD or the implant,” he said.
Those two forms of contraception had been found in an earlier Washington University study to be 20 times more effective than the pill, patch or ring and have a significantly higher up-front cost.
"The impact of providing no-cost birth control was far greater than we expected in terms of unintended pregnancies," Peipert said
IUDs, Implants, and Teens
While cost has been a significant barrier to the use of IUDs and implants, it is not the only one, says Adam Sonfield, of the nonprofit reproductive health advocacy group Guttmacher Institute, WebMD Health News states.
Some doctors are "overly restrictive," Peipert said, and will not provide long-acting reversible birth control methods to young women or women who plan to have children at a later date.
But this is changing, Sonfield added.
The study comes a couple weeks after the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists published new guidelines recommending that doctors offer implants and IUDs to sexually active teenagers.
The group concluded that IUDs and implants are both safe and appropriate methods of contraception for teens.
"These long-acting methods eliminate the problem of inconsistent use common with other contraceptives that can lead to unintended pregnancy," the college said, noting that complications from IUDs and implants are rare.
"Contraception only works when you keep using it," Peipert told AFP. "There are gaps in people's contraceptive use and that's when they get pregnant."
'We are going to keep it'
Millions of women are now beginning to get contraception without co-pays under President Barack Obama’s landmark health care law.
The law requires that Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptives be made available for free for women enrolled in most workplace insurance plans beginning in August.
White House Photo by Pete Souza
The President signing health care reform into law
But that part of the plan has been widely opposed by the Roman Catholic Church and conservative Christian groups because they believe artificial birth control interferes with the sanctity of life.
Those groups oppose the mandate that religious organizations provide birth control because they believe it tramples on their Constitutionally-protected right to religious freedom.
Obama said Friday that providing women with free contraception saves money, CNSNews reports.
"Let me tell you something, Virginia," Obama said, "I don't think your boss should control the care you get. I don't think insurance companies should control the care you get. I definitely don't think politicians on Capitol Hill should control the care you get. We've seen some of their attitudes, we've read about those.
"I think there is one person who gets to make decisions about your health care, that's you," said Obama.
Obama specifically pointed to the fact that the preventive services regulation mandates free contraception for female college students as one of the reasons "why we passed this law."
"And we are going to keep it," he said.