When it comes to birth control, it should be a no-brainer. The social impact the continued innovation birth control has on society today is so incredibly important that we want to be part of the media push to get this information out to as many people as possible. Unfortunately, despite medical and factual data about the effects of birth control, it has become a heavily politicized and divisive tool across America, and elsewhere in the world.
In 2014 the Hobby Lobby US Supreme Court case decided that a for-profit business could deny certain types of birth control to their employers through the health insurance they provided, due to the personal religious beliefs of the owners. That set a very damaging precedent to other for-profit businesses across the country, that if an owner happened to hold a certain belief about birth control, a corporation was now allowed to claim individual constitutional religious freedom rights.
In 2016, the Zubik v. Burwell SCOTUS case was centered on a similar, but even more ridiculous premise. A bit of background – in light of the Hobby Lobby case, the Obama administration made an allowance under the Affordable Healthcare Act stating that if any employer refused to provide birth control due to their religious belief, the government would step in and cover it instead. All the employer would have to do is fill out a form stating this. But the defendants in the case decided that even filling out an exemption form was somehow damaging to their closely held religious beliefs.
If you are struggling to make sense of that Rubik’s cube logic, the concern over birth control becomes even worse when you look overseas. Currently in Latin America, a continent which boasts some of the most heinous anti-choice laws in the world, there is an outbreak of the Zika virus. Birth control is extremely hard to obtain, and in some areas not accessible at all, and abortion is mostly illegal. One of the most pressing concerns is that the Zika virus can cause major damage to an unborn fetus, so instead of making allowances for birth control and other comprehensive reproductive healthcare available, governments are absurdly telling woman to avoid getting pregnant for 2 years. Let’s be clear, they just expect the women to stop having sex, rather than equip them with safe and regulated methods to plan healthy families.
These types of stories do not exist in a vacuum, and a large part of the outrage on behalf of many pro-choice platforms stems from information about how effective birth control can actually be. In the US there are many conservatives who are strongly against abortion (including the Little Sisters of the Poor Catholic Organization in the center of the Zubik SCOTUS case), so you would think they would be ALL for birth control preventing women having unwanted pregnancies and potentially terminating, right? Wrong!
Here is some extremely valuable information which bears repeating at any and every juncture in the debate over birth control. In Colorado, an experiment was carried out between 2009-2013, where IUDs were given out to low-income women and teens, and the result was a 40% decline in birthrates, and a 42% decline in teen abortions. Sadly the experiment was discontinued, despite the positive results. More recently, the CDC released a report at the end of April stating that over the past decade, teen pregnancies have reduced by an average of 40% overall, and honed in on particular demographics. Among Hispanics, birth rates declined by 51%, and among African-American women, 44%.
The CDC states there are still far too many unplanned teen pregnancies, which cost American taxpayers $9 billion annually, the good news is the reduction in rates, the underlying cause of which can be attributed to the increased innovation and use of different kinds of birth control and contraception.
The Guttmacher Institute and the World Health Organization conducted their own study focusing on abortion rates between 1990 and 2014 globally. The summary of their finding was that anti-abortion laws do not reduce the need for abortions, increased access to birth control does (duh!).
“In countries where abortion is completely illegal or permitted only to save the life of the pregnant woman, the most recent data places the average annual abortion rate at 37 per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. In countries where abortion is legal in most cases, the rate is 34 per 1,000 women,” writes Christina Cauterucci for Slate.
“The obvious interpretation is that criminalizing abortion does not prevent it but, rather, drives women to seek illegal services or methods,” wrote Diana Greene Foster of the University of California’s Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health in a comment linked to the report.
Instead, contraception, sex education, and other family-planning services should become widely available in order to prevent women from ever getting to the heart-breaking and difficult position of ever having to consider an abortion. There is no woman in her wildest dreams who would ever choose to be in that situation, which is a narrative not talked about often enough.
“In developed countries, the continued fall in abortion rates is largely due to increased use of modern contraception that has given women greater control over the timing and number of children they want. In developing countries, however, family planning services do not seem to be keeping up with the increasing desire for smaller families. More than 80% of unintended pregnancies are experienced by women with an unmet need for modern methods of contraception, and many unwanted pregnancies end in abortion,” said one of the authors of the study, Guttmacher Institute’s Gilda Sedgh.
We also spoke to Gilda about some of the data and why it is important to share statistics surrounding abortion and contraception. She stressed that in studies from around the world, the increase in access to contraception and birth control coupled with education has seen a decline in the number of abortions, and abortion rates themselves have declined where it is legal. In the United States we need to get rid of barriers to contraception, but also understand that when it comes to the majority of women choosing abortion, they are married women who already have children, not single women who are carelessly seeking abortions as a form of birth control, as some conservative rhetoric would have you think.
“This data can help dispel the notion that abortion is the practice of irresponsible women,” said Gilda, who also added that
The good news is that understanding the effectiveness of birth control and family planning should be the most obvious patch of common ground both pro choice and pro life advocates can come together and agree upon, in order to ensure we don’t keep seeing ridiculous Supreme Court cases like Hobby Lobby or Zubik anymore.
“Improved contraception access gets results where draconian laws fail over and over again,” concludes Christina Cauterucci at Slate, and she is absolutely right.
Which is why recent news out of Maryland, reporting that Governor Larry Hogan (a Republican, no less) signed a very progressive law allowing for comprehensive insurance coverage for birth control, is being hailed as the right move. The “Contraceptive Equity Act” prohibits insurers from charging co-payments for contraceptive drugs, procedures and devices approved by the federal government, and it is being hailed as one of the best in the country so far!
Having access to different types of birth control should not be a debatable issue – the data is clear. The only aspect we should need to focus on, away from every religious and politicized agenda that does nothing to help women’s healthcare, is which type of birth control is the right one for each woman who uses it. There is so much information about each method which unfortunately often gets drowned out or completely ignored in favor of other perspectives.
Healthcare platform Amino have published a report on the different methods of birth control and how to know which is the right option for you. With the inclusion of commentary from the Guttmacher Institute, Amino say it is not just teen girls who need to have access, it is women of a variety of ages who use it. In fact, the type of birth control a woman chooses can differ as she goes through different stages of life, which is not necessarily common knowledge.
They analyzed 620,000 women who had private insurance and went to the doctor to receive birth control from January 2014 to December 2015. They recommend talking to your doctor to determine which method is right for you, but say there are some major benefits to using Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives such as IUDs (the type of birth control successfully used in the Colorado experiment).
While they say IUDs can be an effective method for young, sexually active women as it doesn’t require a daily ingestion, the majority of women using them are in their 30’s, 1 in 5 of which chose to get it after childbirth, either on the day of delivery or soon after.
“Our data found that women in their 30s are more likely to use IUDs than women in their 20s…the American Academy of Pediatrics chose the IUD as the most effective method for teenage girls in 2014—so IUDs will likely continue to increase in popularity with younger women over time,” said Hannah Levy from Amino.
Guttmacher Institute’s senior research scientist Megan Kavanaugh listed a few reasons why IUDs are considered so effective.
“They last between 3 to 12 years, are proven to be some of the most effective forms of birth control, and generally become something you don’t have to worry about once inserted. Plus, these once-expensive forms of birth control are now getting cheaper under the Affordable Care Act,” she stated.
Megan also told us in a phone interview that we need to change the conversation around birth control because more than 99% of women who are sexually active in the US use contraception.
“There needs to be more of a data-driven argument for birth control, because there is evidence that girls stay in school longer, they have better careers and can make better family planning decisions,” she said. If this was the type of information being pushed by more media outlets and legislators, there could be a HUGE shift in the types of legislation being created around women’s reproductive rights.
The Amino/Guttmacher report also says there are incredibly varied results regarding birth control use state by state. Hispanic women were also less likely to have heard about LARCs than white women, and in some cases, many OB-GYNs were unaware of the benefits of an IUD. Sigh…
This is why the dissemination of medically-accurate, fact-based information about birth control is important. Religious beliefs and political leanings are all well and good and perfectly fine, but they should not hinder the process of a woman being able to access the right information in order to ensure she can plan her life and be as healthy and as safe as possible while doing it. Birth control can have serious health implications, and THAT should be what we focus on and fix, instead of ideological arguments.
To find out more about the Amino/Guttmacher report on IUDs click here. To read the Guttmacher/WHO report on the effect of birth control, click here. To read the CDC report on the decline in teen birth rates, click here. And if you are interested in reading more on the Colorado LARC experiment, click here.