Birth Control Boon

07Oct12

A new study has found a strong correlation between free access to contraception and lower rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion:

The study, published online in Obstetrics & Gynecology, was carried out in the St. Louis area from 2007 to 2011 and included participants ages 14 to 45 who said they wanted to avoid pregnancy for at least a year.

From the Associated Press article:

When price wasn’t an issue, women flocked to the most effective contraceptives — the implanted options, which typically cost hundreds of dollars up-front to insert. These women experienced far fewer unintended pregnancies as a result, reported Dr. Jeffrey Peipert of Washington University in St. Louis in a study published Thursday.

The effect on teen pregnancy was striking: There were 6.3 births per 1,000 teenagers in the study. Compare that to a national rate of 34 births per 1,000 teens in 2010.

There also were substantially lower rates of abortion, when compared with women in the metro area and nationally: 4.4 to 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women in the study, compared with 13.4 to 17 abortions per 1,000 women overall in the St. Louis region, Peipert calculated. That’s lower than the national rate, too, which is almost 20 abortions per 1,000 women.

In other news, water is wet.

Still, many Americans oppose subsidizing contraception for women who can’t afford it.  They don’t want their “hard-earned tax dollars” used to reduce the risk of someone else’s recreational sex.  Condoms aren’t that expensive, after all.  If people can’t afford birth control, maybe they should just abstain.  Even if they’re married.

And here, ideology clashes with pragmatism.  Opponents of subsidized contraception typically believe that those who need it don’t “deserve” it.  That’s a value judgment.  The reality is, people are not going to stop having sex, no matter how much politicians and religious leaders bellow about “personal responsibility” and morals.  It really doesn’t matter whether or not poorer women “deserve” free access to contraceptives; they need it, and the benefits extend well beyond them and their families.

A reduction in the rate of unintended pregnancy also reduces other costs to society.  There are fewer underweight, uninsured babies needing expensive medical care in the beginning and possibly care for developmental disabilities down the road.  Fewer children in poverty means less money spent on welfare and food stamps.  Foster care systems are less stretched.  Ultimately, society at large enjoys a lower crime rate (yes, I went there).

Women who delay childbearing until they are ready attain a higher level of education and have greater social mobility opportunities.  Their earning power increases, as does their ability to pay taxes.

Costs are saved and benefits are realized.  Some are tangible, some intangible.  It should be clear that subsidizing contraception is something that will pay for itself in both the short and long run.  That doesn’t matter to many Americans, though, who would rather spend money on a pound of cure rather than an ounce of prevention, just to satisfy their own stubborn ideology.

The controversy over contraception is a good example of Americans judging others as less worthy, with wealth or earning power being the primary yardstick of a person’s value.  Pragmatically, though, society has to make some investments in the “less deserving” to render them more “deserving.”

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