Birth control

Study suggests a practical way the nation could minimize the number of abortions

Nothing but a complete ban on abortion would satisfy its most fervent opponents. But a recently released study may show a way to functionally defuse the issue for the majority of Americans. That it could help ease other problems as well makes it all the more interesting.

A study published online in Obstetrics & Gynecology, and reported in USA Today, reported the results of a four-year project conducted in the St. Louis area. In it, researchers gave free birth control to more than 9,000 girls and women who said they wished to avoid getting pregnant for at least a year. The participants ranged in age from 14 to 45.

Key to the project were two points. One, of course, was the fact the contraceptives were free. But perhaps as important was the idea that before being given birth control, the girls and women were counseled about the various forms of contraceptives available and their relative effectiveness.

That included information, confirmed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecology, to the effect that intrauterine devices and hormonal implants are significantly more effective than other methods, including birth control pills.

The failure rate for implants and IUDs was reported to be as low as 5 percent of that for other methods. Armed with that information, 75 percent of those in the study chose those methods.

As one researcher put it, “We found that when cost is not an issue, what is really important to women is that a method work really well.”

And with those two factors at play – free and effective – the results were stunning. The participants in the project showed a teen birth rate of 6.3 per 1,000, while the overall U.S. rate was 34.3 per 1,000.

What is more, the abortion rate for those in the study was dramatically less than either the region’s average or the national number. Over the duration of the study – 2007 through 2011 – the annual abortion rate for women in the study ranged from 4.4 to 7.5 per 1,000. The national rate for 2008 was 19.6 per 1,000.

Imagine if those results could be extrapolated to the entire nation – with only one-fifth the number of births to teen mothers and the number of abortions cut by half to three-quarters. How would that not be good from any perspective?

Fewer births to teens would mean more young women staying in school, fewer single mothers in need of assistance, and in the end, probably fewer problems with their offspring down the road. The societal benefits could far outweigh the cost of the contraceptives.

Abortion opponents would no doubt like to see the number performed each year at exactly zero. But how could they not approve of the majority being prevented?

We might find out how this works on a larger scale. Part of the Affordable Care Act – Obamacare – that went into effect in August mandates coverage for birth control. If that is accompanied by a greater understanding of the effectiveness of different methods of birth control we could begin to see numbers like those in this study across America.

Abortion is a polarizing issue, in part because advocates on both extremes see it that way. In fact, former President Bill Clinton nailed the American public’s true thinking on the subject when he said abortion should be “safe, legal and rare.” This could be a step toward that goal.

And if it also means fewer unwanted children, the benefits could be even more widespread.