It may be surprising to many, but in a few decades we may look back and realize that President Barack Obama took the most concrete step of any President in the Roe v. Wade era towards reducing the occurrence of abortion.
That step, ironically enough, is the target of many right-wing attacks: the mandate that women’s preventative health services –including contraception — be provided free as of August 1, 2012 as part of the Affordable Care Act.
Last week, researchers at Washington University released the results of a three-year study they did in the St. Louis area where they provided sexually-active adolescents and adults with free contraception. What they found was striking, and potentially very important.
As the Washington Post notes:
About half of all unintended pregnancies are the result of contraceptive failure, where a condom breaks or birth control pills aren’t taken at the right time. The least expensive methods of contraceptive tend to be the least effective.
Specifically, women in the United States use long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) at a far lower rate than the rest of the developed world — less than 10% of American women choose these forms of contraception. Forms of LARC include intrauterine devices, such as Mirena or ParaGard and subdermal implants like Nexplanon. These forms of LARC are up to 20 times more effective than the birth control pill, but their cost often makes it impossible for many women to afford.
Researchers were surprised to find, though, that when these options were made available for free that their utilization increased dramatically. In fact, fully 75% of the women in the study selected a form of LARC (the researchers anticipated a doubling of utilization into the low-teens). And, as you would expect based on those numbers, unplanned pregnancies and abortions sharply declined.
Teen pregnancies among the study group occurred 80% less frequently than the national average. And the abortion rate, when compared to the St. Louis area, declined by at least 50% and as much as 75% in the three years of the study. And the abortion rate was more than 60% lower than the national average.
Expand those numbers nationally, and there will literally be hundreds of thousands fewer abortions per year even if the rates don’t decline as much as they did in the St. Louis area. Enabling access to all forms of contraception empowers women and allows them to make the best decisions — from all the available options — for their lives and circumstances. For that, the Obama Administration deserves credit.