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Contraception Reduces Abortion: The Evidence

Some who conflate contraception with abortion and oppose both are gloating over a study from Spain. It reports that as contraceptive use increased, the abortion rate went up.

The researchers concluded only that the reasons for the increase in abortion await further investigation, which is the responsible thing for scientists to say when they do not know yet.

However, the conflaters quickly decided that it must be because people were having more feckless, casual, irresponsible sex; because they can't be trusted to learn how to use family planning methods effectively; and of course because so many of those contraceptives are really abortifacients.

Other hypotheses are far more plausible.

The bulk of the available evidence shows that in almost all situations worldwide, contraception reduces abortion rates.

One observed exception: if contraceptive services are increased, but they do not keep pace with people's desire & need for smaller family sizes, the abortion rate may go up, temporarily, and then finally decline when programming catches up. Scaling up family planning programs in anticipation of such an increase can help prevent it. In other words, more contraception does result in fewer abortions.

The bulk of the scientific evidence also shows that IUDs and hormonal contraceptives truly prevent conceptions rather than implantations. Please read this report from Family Health International, as well as this testimony from the World Health Organization from the debate in the Philippines over reproductive health legislation. The International Consortium for Emergency Contraception publishes this informative fact sheet on EC.

Other possible factors for the increased abortion rate in Spain merit investigation. For example, how prevalent were reproductive coercion and other forms of violence against the women studied? Women who are subjected to gender-based violence are far more likely to experience contraceptive sabotage, unintended pregnancies, and abortions.

And how did providers and communities educate, motivate, and support contraceptive users? Were they advised on how to share decisionmaking about family planning with their partners? On how to close the gap as much as possible between common use and correct and consistent use effectiveness rates?

These factors are harder to research than rates of contraceptive prevalence and abortion, but such research could boost the lifesaving effects of more family planning access.

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