Why equal access to contraception is so important
Recent US debates around defunding family planning, closing women’s health clinics and even outright denying birth control coverage seem especially questionable, given the well documented benefits of access to family planning. All the evidence points to family planning access as vital to improving quality of life for all, and even saving taxpayer dollars.
Having convenient and affordable access to the resources for an educated choice on family planning is considered an essential human right (the UN made it official in 2012), and yet there are still many obstacles for women’s health, both in the US and globally.
Here are just a few reasons why access to family planning is so important, and why the consequences of not having access are so dire.
1. Access to family planning reflects societal inequalities
The tale of two Americas is reflected in the statistics on unintended pregnancies.
Over half of U.S. pregnancies are unintended and are primarily concentrated among teenagers, low-income and unmarried women. Rates tend to be lowest among higher-income women, college graduates and married women. At 79 per 1,000 women, the unintended pregnancy rate for black women is more than double that of Caucasian women. Women without a high school degree have the highest unintended pregnancy rate.
We compiled a map of US teenage birth rates by county. In some counties teenage birth rates are at over 10%. What do these counties have in common? Teenage birth rates are strongly correlated with low access to family planning (rural areas), income and minority populations.
2. Access to contraception improves quality of life
The single most important intervention to improve quality of life among women and children is education. Birth control comes in at a close second.
Global health researchers conducted a study in a district of Bangladesh to determine the impact of access to contraception on family health and income over a twenty-year span. The results were very clear. After giving half the villagers access to contraception, their quality of life improved dramatically in comparison to those that did not have access. The women were less likely to die of childbirth, child mortality rates fell, schooling for both sons and daughters increased, and the families were wealthier overall.
3. Up to a third of women choose hormonal contraceptives for personal health reasons
1.5 million in the United States and over 30% of teenagers use hormonal birth control for non-contraceptive reasons. Only 42% use the pill exclusively for contraceptive reasons.
The most common medical reasons why women use birth control are managing menstrual pain, menstrual regulation, treatment of acne, endometriosis and treating migraines.
Having equal access to birth control for personal health choices can be an important contributor to women’s health and wellbeing.
4. Birth control saves lives
A recent Gates Foundation study found that contraceptive use prevented 272,040 maternal deaths worldwide per year. Moreover, if every woman in the world had choice and access to contraceptives, an additional 104,00 women’s lives could be saved.
The US has the highest rate of maternal deaths of any developed country, and is the only developed country where maternal deaths are on the rise. There is a close correlation between maternal health, lower prenatal care and unintended pregnancies, so better standards of family planning would contribute to reducing this trend.
Source: Global, regional, and national levels of maternal mortality, 1990–2015: a systematic analysis for the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015, The Lancet
The US also has the highest rate of unintended pregnancies in the developed world at 54%, well above Western Europe’s 38% and Eastern Europe’s 48%.
5. Birth control saves taxpayer $$.
Unplanned pregnancy costs U.S. taxpayers between $9.6 and $12.6 billion a year.
The average cost of one birth is $12,770 in taxpayer money, whilst the average public cost to fund birth control for one person per year is $239.
For every dollar invested in birth control, $6 is saved for taxpayers. This should be a compelling argument for free birth control coverage.
6. Birth control reduces the need for abortion
Better access to birth control leads to fewer unplanned pregnancies, which in turn leads to lower abortion rates.
Studies indicate that 40 percent of unintended pregnancies end in abortion, so cutting access to birth control is not the solution to reducing overall abortion rates. Moreover, reduced access to family planning leads to women seeki out unsafe methods of terminating unwanted pregnancies.
A most recent case study: In the first three years that Texas slashed family planning budgets for Planned Parenthood, abortion rates among teenagers rose by 3%.
1. Fact Sheet on Unintended Pregnancies in the US, Guttmacher Institute
2. Bangladesh’s Family Planning Success Story: A Gender Perspective, Guttmacher Institute
3. Many American Women Use Birth Control Pills for Noncontraceptive Reasons, Guttmacher Institute
4. Maternal deaths averted by contraceptive use: an analysis of 172 countries, the Lancet
5. Unintended Pregnancy and Taxpayer Spending, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health
6. Intended and Unintended Pregnancies Worldwide in 2012 and Recent Trends, Gilda Sedgh et al.