One of the most controversial aspects of the healthcare reform law signed into law by President Obama, at least in Washington and religious circles, is the fact that it requires employers to offer free birth control to women workers. A new study released Thursday, however, suggests that the policy will be extremely effective at reducing pregnancy rates and abortions.
Through a project known as Contraceptive CHOICE, nearly 10,000 women between the ages of 14 and 45 in the St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., areas were offered free contraceptives between 2007 and 2011. Abortion rates among that cohort were between two thirds and three quarters less than the national average for those years. For the 500 teens in the study, the birth rate was 1-in-159, compared to the 1-in-29 birth rate nationally--an 80 percent drop. But most teens would likely not receive healthcare benefits from employers although they might be covered under their parents' policies.
"We were essentially simulating Obamacare," says Gina Secura, of Washington University in St. Louis, one of the authors of the report. "It seems like a no-brainer, but it's a good example of what Obamacare could possibly look like if women had access to birth control options in terms of cost and education of different methods."
[Join the Debate: Should Religious Groups Have to Cover Birth Control?]
Surprisingly, Secura says, nearly 75 percent of women chose a long-term option such as an IUD or subdermal implant. Just 9 percent of women in the cohort chose to use an oral birth control method. Nationally, just about 8 percent of women use an IUD, compared to 22 percent who use the pill.
"We found a lot of women didn't know about a lot of birth control methods other than the commonly-used pill," she says.
Once educated, most women chose a long-term form of contraception. It has been estimated that just 40 percent of adults and 20 percent of teens remember to take birth control pills daily. "If we have a shared goal of reducing abortions, we have to prevent unintended pregnancies. We have to make sure women know about all of the available methods, and we have to provide access to it affordably."
Jeanne Monahan, of the Family Research Council, told the Associated Press that the study didn't convince her.
"One might conclude that the Obama administration's contraception mandate may ultimately cause more unplanned pregnancies since it mandates that all health plans cover contraceptives, including those that the study's authors claim are less effective," she said.
Jason Koebler is a science and technology reporter for U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.