Today’s birth control methods are far more effective and safe than those of the past. Instead of relying on sea sponges, sheep intestines, or animal horns (yes, that was really a thing!), women can now opt for latex condoms, birth control pills, or long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARC) such as hormonal IUDs. With companies like Nurx, women can even go online to order emergency contraception as well as other birth control pills.
Thanks in part to these medical advancements, the U.S. has seen a fall in the number of unintended pregnancies. However, it still has a significantly higher number of unwanted pregnancies compared to other developed countries. What’s holding us back? What helped us to get as far as we have? Education, cost, and accessibility all make a big difference in pregnancy prevention. Let’s take a look at how all these factors tie in together.
It pretty much goes without saying that birth control is more accessible when it’s available without cost, and that’s especially true for low-income women. Between 1981 and 2008, the unintended pregnancy rate increased for low-income women while it decreased for higher-income women.
What’s interesting is that between 2008 and 2011, the unintended pregnancy rate for low-income women dropped by a whopping 18 percent. Around the same time, in March 2010, the Affordable Care Act went into effect. Under this policy, most health insurance plans are required to cover contraceptive methods and counseling for all women. There are likely other factors that helped reduce those numbers — such as publicly funded family planning services — but the Affordable Care Act definitely helped to close the income gap.
Under the current administration, affordable birth control is under threat. The new rules, if they go through, will make it easier for employers and insurers to refuse birth control coverage due to moral or religious beliefs. Thirteen states have already filed complaints against these new rules, and a federal judge has blocked the rules nationwide. Whether the block becomes permanent or not remains to be seen.
The actual cost of birth control isn’t the only barrier. Taking time off work for a doctor appointment can be difficult no matter what your income is. Working long hours or having multiple jobs make it hard to get to the clinic. If you live in a contraceptive desert where clinics are few and far between, getting an appointment at all may seem impossible.
This is where technology steps in. Telemedicine companies like Nurx allow you to order the pill, patch, or vaginal ring online and have your prescription delivered to your home. Ten years ago, this option didn’t even exist. It’s too soon to know if telemedicine will reduce the rates of unintended pregnancy longterm, but women who use Nurx are already saying how much easier it is to get the contraceptives they need.
Age is another risk factor for unwanted pregnancies. Out of all the age groups of sexually active and fertile women, those aged 15 to 19 have the highest rates of unintended pregnancies. Clearly, sex education is a good idea for teens and preteens, but sex education programs are inconsistent across the U.S. Only 20 states require that students be taught about contraception, and it’s about to get worse.
In April 2018, the federal government made changes to the Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) Program. This program — which helped to reduce teen pregnancy rates between 2007 and 2015 — will now only provide funding to organizations that promote abstinence-only approaches.
For these reasons, parental influence is more important than ever. Parents can help their kids make better choices about safe sex by dispelling any misinformation they get through the internet, social media, or friends. They can also fill in any knowledge gaps for teens who only learn about abstinence at school.
As a society, we need to keep demanding access to affordable birth control, and we need to keep pushing for comprehensive sex education. We’ve come a long way in the past few decades. Let’s continue to march forward. Take control of your health today.
This blog provides information about telemedicine, health and related subjects. The blog content and any linked materials herein are not intended to be, and should not be construed as a substitute for, medical or healthcare advice, diagnosis or treatment. Any reader or person with a medical concern should consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other healthcare provider. This blog is provided purely for informational purposes. The views expressed herein are not sponsored by and do not represent the opinions of Nurx™.