“No duh” study finds giving teens access to free IUDs cuts their unintended pregnancy rate by nearly 80 percent

9945353-largeI’d love to live in a country where we don’t need studies to tell us that giving people affordable access to effective contraception is a pretty excellent way to prevent unintended pregnancies. But alas. So today’s “no duh” study finds that giving teen girls access to long-acting birth control, like IUDs and implants, at no cost cuts their abortion and unintended pregnancy rates by more than 75 percent.

The study followed 1,404 sexually active teen girls in St. Louis. After receiving counseling about their different birth control options, they were able to select any method free of charge. Nearly three-fourths of them ended up choosing an IUD or implant. Nationwide, only about 5 percent of teens use these methods. So here’s the first unsurprising finding: When young people actually know about all their options and cost isn’t a factor, they smartly tend to opt for the most effective, longest-lasting, easiest-to-use methods. 

The researchers tracked the teens for the next few years and found that their pregnancy and abortion rates dropped by 79 and 77 percent respectively. The pregnancy rate for the participants in the study was just 34 per 1000, compared to 158.5 per 1000 for sexually experienced teens in the US overall. And, lo and behold, the racial disparity in unintended pregnancy rates was pretty much eliminated among the participants. Again, given that IUDs and implants have much lower failure rates than other forms of birth control, all this is to be expected.

I emphasize the obviousness of these findings just because some people in this country seriously argue not only that cost doesn’t pose any meaningful barrier to people’s access to the best birth control methods, but also that contraception does the opposite of what it does. That, despite all evidence, birth control does not reduce unintended pregnancies and that, in fact, giving young people information about safe sex and access to contraception is what leads them down the path of sin that ends in “promiscuity” and abortion and broken dreams. (A previous study from this very research project debunked that myth, finding that free birth control does not lead to “riskier” sexual behavior.)

The good news, of course, is that the contraception mandate under Obamacare is eliminating the cost barrier to these long-acting methods for many Americans, and medical professionals, including most recently the American Academy of Pediatrics, are supporting the idea that they should be “first-line” methods for teens. Let’s hope the trend continues.

Maya DusenberyMaya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like Cosmopolitan.com, TheAtlantic.com, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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