A study published last fall in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology shows that providing free birth control to women and teenaged girls does, in fact, have a dramatic impact on the rate of unintended pregnancy, which, in turn, impacts the abortion rate. The study, which included more than 9,000 women and teenagers in the St. Louis area, and found that providing free birth control, including IUDs and hormonal implants, reduced the abortion rate by 62% to 78%.
The implications of such results fly in the face of the idea that, to reduce the abortion rate, abortions must be heavily restricted or even outlawed, and that contraception should remain out of reach for many. The GOP has been working on ways to erode, and ultimately overturn, Roe v. Wade for some time, with things such as the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would severely restrict women’s access to abortions after 20 weeks. Some have even argued that the case of Kermit Gosnell is proof that abortion doctors should be under very heavy certification requirements, with admitting privileges at local hospitals, and that abortions need to be further restricted to protect women.
Furthermore, there are all sorts of myths floating around about birth control that make the religious right want to restrict its access as well. Oklahoma tried passing a law making it so that no employer was required to adhere to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. That decision was based on the opinion of a cardiologist, Dr. Dominic Pedulla, who said that birth control suppresses a woman’s natural tendency toward motherhood. He said that, with contraception, women are being asked to “radically contradict” their own identity, and to poison their own bodies.
Interesting word choice there; women are not being asked to do anything with birth control, even with the mandate. The mandate simply requires insurance to cover it, not that women take it.
A right-wing talk show host also mentioned horrific side effects of the pill, namely, that taking it results in thousands of tiny dead fetuses littering a woman’s uterus.
In 2012, Rick Santorum told CPAC that, because the pill is only a few dollars, insurance should not be required to cover it at all and that women should have to pay for it out of their own pockets. He got the numbers wrong, however. The pill requires an initial doctor’s visit, plus annual follow-ups, and can cost women up to $850 per year for the first year of their prescription. $850, even over the course of a year, is a lot of money for lower-income Americans.
Incidentally, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 69% of women who have abortions are considered economically disadvantaged, and 42% are actually poor. These women often can’t afford a doctor’s visit, and therefore, can’t get access to prescription contraception. The failure rate of IUDs and hormonal implants is less than 1%, vs. condoms, which is 18%. So telling these women “just use condoms” is to tell them to resort to methods that are far less reliable and could far more easily result in unwanted pregnancy.
The teen birth rate among the girls in the study was 6.3 per 1,000, vs. 34.3 per 1,000 in the general population. Furthermore, the abortion rate was 4.4 to 7.5 per 1,000 between 2008 and 2010, the time the study was conducted. The overall abortion rate among women in the study was 4.4 to 7.5 per 1,000, vs. 19.6 per 1,000 nationwide.
In other words, free birth control methods, particularly IUDs and other implantable methods, are one key to reducing the abortion rate in the country. The issue is not availability, it’s affordability. The right, however, would restrict access to abortions and restrict access to affordable health insurance and care, and keep from requiring insurance to cover methods of contraception. Essentially, everything they want to do is the antithesis of a real solution to the abortion rate.