Access to free birth control leads to lower rates of abortions and teen births, according to a new and extensive study from Washington University in St. Louis. (Well, the study is new, but the information is older than Antonin Scalia — we'll get to that in a second.)
The study followed more than 9,000 mostly poor and/or uninsured women in St. Louis who were given their pick of contraceptive methods, free of charge. As it turns out, most women chose the most effective option — implants, which usually cost hundreds of dollars upfront — if they didn't have to pay for them. It boggles the mind, right?
In further shocking revelations: the women in the study experienced far fewer unintended pregnancies than did other women in St. Louis and across the nation who don't have access to affordable reproductive healthcare. The effect on teen pregnancy was huge: there were only 6.3 births per 1,000 teenagers in the study, as opposed to the national rate of 34 births per 1,000 teens in 2010. There were only 4.4 to 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women in the study, as opposed to 13.4 to 17 abortions per 1,000 women in St. Louis and 20 abortions per 1,000 women in the country.
Given unfettered access to all forms of contraceptive methods, the researchers reported, one abortion could be prevented for every 79 to 137 women.
"It's just an amazing improvement," Dr. James T. Breeden, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, told the AP. "I would think if you were against abortions, you would be 100 percent for contraception access." Yes, Dr. Breeden. One would think that, wouldn't they? But too many conservatives hear "contraception" and either think "free pass to Sexy Town" or "baby-killing poison," conclusions that are pretty conflicting. (They don't want unmarried people having sex, but if they DO have sex, they better burden themselves and the economy with an unwanted baby!)
One would also think that this new data would make anti-abortion advocates chill out — perhaps even embrace? — the Obama administration's soon-to-be implemented contraception mandate. By "one" I mean "someone who has never watched Fox News/gone outside." This data failed to change anyone's mind; this week, a federal judge in St. Louis dismissed a lawsuit challenging the contraception mandate, and the AP says nearly three dozen similar suits have been filed around the country.
Here's what Jeanne Monahan of the conservative Family Research Council learned from the new study:
"Additionally, one might conclude that the Obama administration's contraception mandate may ultimately cause more unplanned pregnancies since it mandates that all health plans cover contraceptives, including those that the study's authors claim are less effective."
Which basically means she stuck her fingers in her ears and closed her eyes while saying "NA NA NA I CAN'T HEAR YOU" in a sing-songy tone.
Because it's not like this is breaking news. Last year, New Zealand researchers found that free and more effective birth control leads to fewer abortions. Another recent CDC study determined that teen birthrates plummet when girls can actually get their hands on birth control. Just last month, the Guttmacher Institute released a study detailing the ways women benefit from contraception — contraception they can only benefit from if they can actually afford it.
Our country literally can't afford to write this issue off as a lost and partisan cause. According to a study released by the National Campaign To Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies, unplanned pregnancies total $4 billion a year in direct medical costs alone. The average cost per publicly financed unintended pregnancy is nearly $10,000. As my coworker Erin wrote last month, it's time to stop pretending that abortion and birth control aren't economic issues. But how can we do that when conservatives refuse to listen to facts?
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