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“The Facts Are Staring Us In The Face”: GOP Lawmakers Vote To Increase Unplanned Pregnancy Rate

In early July, Colorado’s success with free long-acting contraceptives was trumpeted by news media. The New York Times called the results “startling” and “stunning.” “Colorado’s free birth control experiment could change the world,” ravedSFGate, a news website.

But the news was not so surprising.

After health authorities provided free contraceptives such as intrauterine devices to low-income girls and women over six years, from 2009 to 2013, the out-of-wedlock birth rate among teenagers dropped by 40 percent. The abortion rate among that group declined by 42 percent, said the Times, using figures from Colorado officials. And they reported similar declines among unmarried women younger than 25 and without high-school diplomas — a group likely to be mired in poverty if they started motherhood too soon.

Aren’t those results exactly what you’d expect when young women are given easy access to a reliable and simple-to-use method of birth control? Isn’t that what advocates of women’s reproductive health have been preaching for decades?

Here’s the surprise: The Colorado state legislature has refused to provide $5 million to renew the program, despite its dramatic results. Apparently, its members were cowed by opposition from the usual coalition of right-wing religious groups, such as Colorado Family Action. (The initial funding was provided by an anonymous donor.)

“We believe that offering contraceptives to teens, especially long-acting reversible contraceptives, while it may prevent pregnancy, does not help them understand the risks that come with sexual activities. We should not remove parents from the equation,” Colorado Family Action said in a statement.

Allow me to interpret the statement from CFA: If teenage girls have sex, we want them to get pregnant and suffer for it. This sort of political falderal makes me want to bang my head on my desk. If we want to reduce unintended pregnancies — which leads, of course, to a reduction in abortion rates — we know how to do it: Provide free contraception, preferably long-acting and reversible methods such as IUDs. Yet, the very right-wingers who denounce abortion rights refuse to support widespread contraceptive use.

While the figures from Colorado are dramatic, rates of teen pregnancy have been falling for decades. The teen pregnancy rate in the United States reached its peak in 1990 and has been dropping since then.

According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit that works to advance reproductive health, the decline, at least since 2003, has “little or nothing to do with teens’ delaying sex. … Instead, the decline in teen pregnancy in recent years can be linked to improvements in teens’ contraceptive use.”

In the late 1990s, reproductive experts started to notice that unintended pregnancies had dropped, especially among teenagers, as they began using long-acting birth control methods such as Norplant, which was implanted under the skin, and Depo-Provera, administered through injection. The advantage lies in ease of use: Women don’t have to remember to take a daily pill.

Still, even with the successes of recent decades, the United States has a higher rate of unintended pregnancies — more than half are unplanned — than virtually any other industrialized country. And 40 percent of those end in abortion, according to Guttmacher researchers.

Cultural and religious conservatives insist that teaching teens to abstain from sexual activity is the answer. But the states most likely to insist on that approach — my home state of Alabama is one — have the highest rates of teen pregnancy. Alabama has the 15th-highest rate of teen pregnancy, according to federal statistics. Mississippi, equally conservative and even poorer, has the second.

If you still don’t believe it, take a look at Bristol Palin, daughter of Tea Party darling Sarah Palin. Once a spokesperson for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, she pledged after her first child not to have sex again until she married. She is now pregnant with her second child as a single mother.

The facts are staring us in the face: We know how to prevent unplanned pregnancies and the poverty they so often drag in their wake. We know how to dramatically reduce the rate of abortions. It’s simply crazy that we refuse to do what works.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary, 2007; The National Memo, July 11, 2015

July 13, 2015 Posted by | Colorado Legislature, Contraception, Teen Pregnancy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What If Contraception Could Decimate The Abortion Rate?

In Ross Douthat’s weekend NY Times column, he mediates in the long-running argument  liberals and conservatives have waged over sex, abortion, and contraception. Liberals argue that widespread access to contraception is the surest way to reduce unwanted pregnancies, he writes, whereas conservatives believe “it’s more important to promote chastity, monogamy and fidelity than to  worry about whether there’s a prophylactic in every bedroom drawer or  bathroom cabinet.”
Both narratives are contradicted by the facts, he argues. For example, socially conservative regions feature higher rates of teenage parenthood and unwed pregnancy than the nation as a whole.
He goes on:

Liberals love to cite these numbers as proof that social conservatism is a flop. But the liberal narrative has glaring problems as well. To  begin with, a lack of contraceptive access simply doesn’t seem to be a  significant factor in unplanned pregnancy in the United States. When the Alan Guttmacher Institute surveyed more than 10,000 women who had procured abortions in 2000 and 2001, it found that only 12 percent cited problems  obtaining birth control as a reason for their pregnancies. A recent  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of teenage mothers found similar results: Only 13 percent of the teens reported having had trouble getting contraception.

Is the takeaway really that lack of contraceptive access isn’t a significant factor in unplanned pregnancy? If roughly 1 in 10 unplanned pregnancies is caused by lack of access to birth control, that seems very significant! If I approached Douthat, having devised a way to reduce the American abortion rate by just 5 percent without coercion or significant expense, I suspect he’d be very enthusiastic, and think I accomplished something important. The issue here is that he’s unpersuaded these teens would’ve avoided pregnancy even if they’d been given access to birth control.
As he writes:

…if liberal social policies really led  inexorably to fewer unplanned pregnancies and thus fewer abortions, you  would expect “blue” regions of the country to have lower teen pregnancy  rates and fewer abortions per capita than demographically similar “red”  regions. But that isn’t what the data show. Instead, abortion rates are  frequently higher in more liberal states, where access is often largely  unrestricted, than in more conservative states, which are more likely to have parental consent laws, waiting periods, and so on. “Safe, legal  and rare” is a nice slogan, but liberal policies don’t always seem to  deliver the “rare” part.

But the “liberal social policies” he conflates can be teased apart. What if contraceptive access reduces unplanned pregnancies in some jurisdictions, even as women who do get pregnant in those same places have abortions at higher rates due to unrestricted access or the fact that abortion is less stigmatized? As if in anticipation of that very counterargument, he goes on to write:

What’s more, another Guttmacher Institute study suggests that liberal  states don’t necessarily do better than conservative ones at preventing  teenagers from getting pregnant in the first place. Instead, the lower  teenage birth rates in many blue states are mostly just a consequence of (again) their higher abortion rates. Liberal California, for instance,  has a higher teen pregnancy rate than socially conservative Alabama; the Californian teenage birth rate is only lower because the Californian  abortion rate is more than twice as high.

But California’s higher teenage pregnancy rate is substantially driven by Hispanic immigrants whose religious and cultural background is relatively antagonistic to contraceptives. And if we’re citing numbers generated by the Guttmacher Institute, surely the ones that followare relevant to this subject:

– Publicly funded family planning services help women to avoid pregnancies they do not want and to plan pregnancies they do. In 2008, these services helped women in California avoid 317,900 unintended pregnancies, which would likely have resulted in about 141,300 unintended births and 132,700 abortions.
– Contraceptive services provided at Title X-supported centers in California helped prevent 200,200 unintended pregnancies, which would likely have resulted in about 89,000 unintended births and 83,600 abortions.

If you think that abortion is the killing of an innocent human, surely you should regard a contraceptive policy thought to result in tens of thousands of fewer abortions per year as a significant achievement, unless you think that the policy is causing lots of other abortions to occur. The Guttmacher Institute has published analysis that reaches precisely the opposite conclusion.
And increasing the availability and effectiveness of contraception seems like a more achievable task than reducing abortions by re-establishing bygone norms of chastity, monogamy and fidelity (none of which, by the way, are incompatible with widespread access to effective birth control).

 

By: Conor Friedersdorf, The Atlantic, February 21, 2012

February 22, 2012 Posted by | Abortion, Birth Control | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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