A new study showing that the availability of free birth control reduces the numbers of abortions and teen pregnancies offers heartening support for President Obama’s policy on free contraception even as it sets up a challenging set of circumstances for social and fiscal conservatives.
The two-year study tracked more than 9,000 women in St. Louis. The women, many poor or uninsured, were given their choice of a range of free contraceptives. Most chose highly effective methods such as IUDs or implanted options.
The result was startling: In the study, there were 6.3 births per 1,000 teenagers, compared with a national rate of 34 births per 1,000 teenagers in 2010. Abortions also declined. The study produced rates of 4.4 to 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women, compared to 13.4 to 17 per 1,000 in the St. Louis area and nearly 20 per 1,000 women nationally.
Those are results no sane person can argue with. Pro-life or pro-choice, no one celebrates the occurrence of abortions, and everyone but some teenagers understands the long-term repercussions of teen pregnancy, on the baby, on the teens involved and on taxpayers.
The good news is that millions of American women are beginning to get access to contraception without co-pays under Obama’s health care bill. The requirement has unleashed controversy because, while it exempts churches that oppose contraception from a requirement to offer it in their employee insurance programs, it does not do the same for religiously affiliated businesses such as hospitals, nursing homes and schools.
But hospitals understand the concept of triage: What comes first? Is decreasing the number of abortions important enough for at least some opponents of the measure to grant it grudging acceptance? Abstinence would be nice, but the toothpaste won’t go back into the tube. Teens and adults are bombarded daily with highly sexualized messages. Anyone who thinks abstinence training alone will stem the tide of teen or otherwise unwanted pregnancies is whistling past the graveyard – and the tax office.
If the country can substantially reduce teenage pregnancies and abortions by providing free birth control, that’s a win for those who oppose abortion and those who object to the tax burden of helping to support children born to parents who cannot support them and who may not even care about them.
No one should expect the controversy to diminish, given the church opposition and the election calendar, but this study, by Dr. Jeffrey Peipert of Washington University in St. Louis, offers compelling evidence that the policy is important and forward-looking: It prevents teen pregnancies, reduces abortions and saves taxpayers money. There’s a word for that: conservative.