Shocking News: Free Birth Control Reduces Abortions and Unwanted Pregnancies
A large study recently published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology has concluded that free birth control leads to dramatically lower rates of abortions and teen births. The study followed more than 9,000 women in St. Louis, who were provided their choice of contraception at no cost, including birth control pills and IUDs. When price wasn't an issue, the majority of women chose the most effective contraceptives, which tend to be the implanted options like IUDs. These cost hundreds of dollars up-front to insert.
The study found that teenagers provided free birth control had only 6.3 births per 1,000, compared with a national rate of 34 births per 1,000 teens in 2010. Furthermore, there were only 4.4 to 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women in the study, compared with 13.4 to 17 abortions per 1,000 women overall in the St. Louis region.
This data should bolster supporters of Obama’s healthcare plan, as the new law requires that employer-provided insurance plans provide FDA-approved contraceptives to women at no cost starting January 1, 2013. In light of the study’s findings, this provision of the healthcare plan should lead to a dramatic decline in unwanted pregnancies.
However, the women who would benefit most from free contraception are those who currently have no insurance coverage. Most of these women do not receive employer-provided coverage and most are low income. Even with the new mandates and the government subsidies for the low income uninsured, many will still be unable to afford coverage or may choose not to purchase it, and those who do qualify for subsidized coverage may be ineligible for the free contraceptives since they are not being covered by their employers.
The study’s findings should come as no surprise considering that the U.S. has one of the highest rates of unplanned pregnancies in the industrialized world, particularly among the nation’s low income women and teens. In suburban Marin County, for example, which is one of California’s wealthiest counties, only 5% of white teen girls live in poverty. And white teens between the ages of 15 and 19 have a birth rate of only 5 per 1,000. The rate is nearly 0% among younger teens, according to Mike Males. This is similar to Holland, where only 5% of children live in poverty and the teen birth rate is 5 per 1,000 girls ages 15-19. Yet, in agricultural Tulare County, California, 18% of white teen girls are impoverished and the white-teen birth rate is 50 per 1,000. Meanwhile, 40% of Tulare’s Hispanic girls are poor and their birth rate is more than 100 per 1,000, similar to that of Guatemala.
Providing free contraceptives to low income women and teens is probably the cheapest and most expedient way to reduce unwanted pregnancies, something that could help many delay childrearing until they are more financially stable or ready to have families. However, there are numerous other reasons why lower income women and teens have higher birth rates that are not only independent of their access to free birth control, but that require independent solutions. For example, there are 250,000 teenagers who are confirmed victims of physical and sexual abuse each year (and this is only the documented cases). Some of them become pregnant as a result and most have been abused by adults, often members of their own families. Yet, even when consensual, most teen pregnancies do involve an adult male.
Another factor to consider is that teenage motherhood can be a sensible economic choice for some poorer young women. For example, Duke economist, V. Joseph Hotz and colleagues, found that by age 35, women who had had babies as teenagers were now earning higher incomes, paying more in taxes, collecting less public assistance, and were significantly less likely to live in poverty than poor women who waited until their 20s to have babies. The explanation for this is that women who became mothers in their teens no longer had as many child-rearing duties by the time they reached their late 20s and early 30s, allowing them to pursue higher education and career advancement, while poorer women who waited to become moms were still stuck at home caring for young children during the prime years for career advancement. The Hotz et al study came out in 2005. Eight years prior to this, the federal government commissioned the "Kids Having Kids" report, which had similar findings.
Of course, with access to free birth control, many poor women may choose to forego childrearing until their 30s, or entirely, as many middle class women are currently doing, allowing them to not only complete college, but also establish their careers before starting families. Free birth control may also lead to smaller families and a reduction in the overall birthrate, which could help increase familial wealth by reducing the number of mouths families have to feed.