Abortion is an extremely divisive issue in the United States. It has consistently remained an important factor in political elections, even as abortion rates have continually dropped over the past 30 years, as the Guttmacher Institute found in a July 2014 study.
In fact, according to national Gallup polls, the significance of a candidate’s position on abortion is again growing among registered voters. [i] While some believe abortion is a right and others a crime, the issue remains at the forefront of the American discussion.
But what if, rather than arguing about morality and faith, we concentrated on lowering the rate of unwanted pregnancies?
The Washington University in St. Louis School of Medicine, through their study the Contraceptive CHOICE Project (CCP), attempted to address this question. Conducted with women aged 14 – 45 in the St. Louis, Missouri area, they provided over 9,000 participants with education about and access to their choice of a long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) method, then tracked the results over a three-year period.
The most recent findings of the CCP study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine on October 2, focused specifically on teenagers 14 – 19 years old. The conclusions are staggering.
Once the CHOICE Project “removed financial and access barriers to contraception and informed them about the particular efficacy of LARC methods,” pregnancy, birth and abortion rates plummeted compared to both the overall national average and the national average of sexually active teens the same age. [ii] Among sexually experienced teens, 41.5 girls out of every 1,000 had to have an abortion. Among study participants, the rate was fewer than 10 in 1,000.
This study is only the most recent one in a long line of reports linking contraceptive use to a drop in abortions. While American abortion rates hit an all-time low in 2011, 2012 marked the fifth consecutive year of decline in American birth rates. Both of these coincide with an increase in the use of contraception among American women. According to the Center for Disease Control’s report ‘Use of Contraception in the United States: 1982-2008,’ the rate of sexually experienced women who employed contraceptives of any kind hit 99 percent in 2008.
All of these numbers add up to one conclusion. Increased education, access to and use of contraception, especially long-term contraception, lowers pregnancy rates. As Jonathan Cohn [iii], of The New Republicwrote earlier this week, this shouldn’t shock anyone.
“Birth control reduces pregnancy and long-acting birth control reduces pregnancy by quite a lot.” He surmises that this is the reason the American Academy of Pediatrics just began encouraging members to recommend IUDs to sexually active teens.
In the end, the most effective way to reduce the number of abortions is to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, and the most effective way to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies is through contraception. While we will never be able to entirely erase the existence of unintended pregnancies, if our society can come together to support low-cost, easily accessible, long-term methods of contraception, we will continue to see a decline in the abortion rate.