RMC Responds: Increasing Access to Birth Control Leads to Less Unintended PregnanciesPosted: February 22, 2013
In response to a Facebook post about a recent CDC report on contraception use among American women, Molly said: “IMO, unfortunately there aren’t enough women who use birth control when it’s accessible, or there wouldn’t be so many abortions.”
This hits on a key point – access to birth control is a key to lowering the rates of unintended pregnancy and the rates of abortion – a goal that all sides of the choice debate can embrace.
Last year, the Washington University School of Medicine released findings of an important and telling study, “The Contraceptive Choice Project,” that provided low income and uninsured women with birth control. When over 9,000 women in the St. Louis area were given no-cost contraception for three years, from 2008 to 2010, annual abortion rates among the participants dropped an unprecedented 60 to 75 percent lower than the national average. During that three-year period the abortion rate in the St. Louis area ranged from 4.4 abortions per 1,000 women to 7.5 abortions per 1,000, significantly less than the national average of 19.6 abortions per 1000 women. Teenage participants in the same study experienced a birth rate of 6.3 per 1,000 girls, compared with the national rate of 34.3 per 1,000 girls.
But not all women have easy access to contraception. Claiming that contraception is cheap or easy to get is a favorite talking point of the anti-choice community. According to the Guttmacher Institute, a nonpartisan research center, among the 43 million fertile, sexually active women who do not want to become pregnant, 89 percent are using contraception. Birth control is only available with a prescription and, for those with insurance, the cost of birth control pills ranges from $10 to $90 monthly. When coupled with the mandatory examination procedures, costs can reach upwards of $1,000 annually—and that is for women who already have health insurance. Don’t forget that many women will use contraception for up to 30 years of their lives!
These costs are especially difficult for women in underprivileged communities. In 2009, Guttmacher conducted a survey of 934 women (aged 18-34) in the wake of the Great Recession. Twenty-three percent of surveyed women reported having a harder time paying for birth control than in the past. This proportion rises to one out of three among financially underprivileged women. Among women using the pill, 18 percent reported inconsistent use as a means of saving money. Pill users said they skipped pills (4%), delayed getting a prescription filled (12%), went off the pill for at least a month (11%) and obtained fewer pill packs at one time (8%). Such inconsistent use is more common among women who are struggling financially than among others (25% vs. 6%).
The truth is: Birth control is not cheap, and increasing women’s access to contraceptive services not only drastically reduces the rate of abortions nationwide, but it’s the most long-term, cost-effective policy decision the government can make.