Amid the outcry over New York City's Plan B emergency contraceptive program and the Obama administration's contraception mandate, a study by scientists in Missouri suggests that free birth control can lead to greatly lower rates of abortions and births among teenagers.
Only 6.3 teenagers in every 1,000 given their choice of contraception get pregnant, compared with 34 per 1,000 nationwide, found the project that tracked more than 9,000 women in St. Louis, Mo., many of them poor or uninsured.
In the study published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, Dr. Jeffrey Peipert of Washington University in St. Louis says that these women not only experienced far fewer unintended pregnancies but the abortion rate also fell tremendously.
Only 4.4 to 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women were recorded in the study, compared with 13.4 to 17 abortions per 1,000 women overall in the St. Louis region and almost 20 abortions per 1,000 women nationwide.
As part of the study, which ran from 2008 to 2010, the women were given their choice of a range of contraceptive methods at no cost – from birth control pills to goof-proof options like the IUD or a matchstick-sized implant. And they opted for the most effective contraceptives – the implanted options, which cost hundreds of dollars up-front to insert.
The outcome of the study comes weeks after the New York City Department of Education decided to make the morning after pill available to high school teenage girls at 13 public schools, expanding a program that began last year. The program allows the schools to provide Plan B emergency contraception without parental consent to girls as young as 14.
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League, recently told The Christian Post that the decision by the NYC DOE is "the kind of imperial edict that demands a lawsuit." "Whenever it comes to sensitive issues such as sexuality, the government must always play an ancillary role to that of parents," he said. "The provision that parents can opt out smacks of governmental arrogance and must be resisted: the government has no business eclipsing parental rights."
Religious freedom groups and Catholic and evangelical Christian institutions are also fighting the Barack Obama administration's contraception mandate, which requires health insurers, or employers, including faith-based employers, to provide insurance coverage for contraception and abortion-inducing drugs at no cost to employees. Over 30 separate lawsuits have been filed challenging the Health and Human Services mandate.
The study in St. Louis is now being seen as supportive of contraceptive measures. "As a society, we want to reduce unintended pregnancies and abortion rates. This study has demonstrated that having access to no-cost contraception helps us get to that goal," The Associated Press quoted Alina Salganicoff, director of women's health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, as saying.
However, critics still differ. "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," Jeanne Monahan of the conservative Family Research Council was quoted as saying.