Free birth control means less abortions.
That's the finding of a new study that appears in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.
For three years, researchers provided more than 9,000 women with the birth control of their choice – completely free. That included the pill, the patch, the ring and long-term contraception, like intrauterine devices (IUDs). Many of the women were poor and had low education.
Doctors told women that long-term methods, like IUDs, were far more effective at preventing unintended pregnancies than methods like the pill, in part because they are implemented by a medical professional and don't rely on perfect use.
At the end of three years, researchers calculated somewhere between 4.4 and 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women in the group.
Compare that to the rest of the nation, whose abortion rate is 19.6 per 1,000 women.
The study's authors were struck by the starkness of the findings, which were even more pronounced among the teenage girls in the study, who had an abortion rate of 6.3 per 1,000 women, compared to the national rate of 34.3 per 1,000.
"The impact of providing no-cost birth control was far greater than we expected in terms of unintended pregnancies," said Dr. Jeff Peipert, who led the study, in a statement. "We think improving access to birth control, particularly IUDs and implants, coupled with education on the most effective methods has the potential to significantly decrease the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions in this country.
In this study, 75 percent of women opted to use IUDs, which often aren't covered by insurance and can cost more than $800 up front, which means they aren't used by as many women as doctors would like. In the U.S., the pill is by far the most commonly-used form of birth control.
The latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that one in three births in the country is unintended. Abortion statistics are notoriously hard to collect, but the Guttmacher Institute – which supports abortion rights – estimates that in 2008, California saw more than 214,000 of the procedures, ranking it first among every other state in the U.S. To put it in the same terms the study used, California's abortion rate was 27.6.
Researchers' findings, then, indicate free birth control may have a sizable impact on the Golden State.
Serena Josel is the director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood, which is one agency that provides abortions. She said it's tough to break down abortion statistics because not all of Planned Parenthood's clinics offer the procedure.
"In Los Angeles, in the health centers that we operate across the county, abortion makes up 7 percent of the health care services we provide," said Josel.
Free birth control isn't rare – a provision of the Affordable Care Act that went into effect on August 1 requires most insurance plans to provide its beneficiaries free FDA-approved contraception, as well as contraceptive education and counseling.
For the uninsured, Planned Parenthood will provide complimentary contraception. Josel also mentioned Family PACT, a clinical program which attempts to provide low-income families with free or low-cost family planning, including birth control. To be eligible, patients must: 1) not be covered by insurance, 2) live in California, 3) be able to get pregnant or get somebody pregnant and 4) be at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
For more, check out nine important things to know about birth control.
Photo by Shimrit Abraham via Flickr Creative Commons.