Blog Posts

Birth control is no myth

Kristin Powers at the Daily Beast challenges the claim that lessening access to contraception will drive up the abortion rate. I have a few problems with her analysis:

  • Powers cites a study from Spain showing that abortion rates rose alongside increases in contraception use from 1997 to 2007. Marysia already addressed this study, so I'll quickly recap her post: In some cases, an increased desire for smaller family sizes can outstrip the pace at which contraception use increases. In those cases, until contraception use catches up, abortion rates may increase. However, the majority of the evidence shows that in most situations worldwide, increasing the use of effective contraception reduces abortion rates.
  • Powers seems to assume that the 54% of women who had used contraception during the month they became pregnant don't have a problem with access. That's much too simplistic. I can spot a number of potential access problems hidden in those data. For instance, many of the 76% (!) of respondents who say they used the pill inconsistently could be having trouble getting their pills on time every month. Most women can only get one to three months' worth of contraception prescriptions at a time; one study showed that allowing low-income women to get twelve months' worth of pills at a time decreased the odds of unintended pregnancy by 30%, and the odds of an abortion by 46%. Reproductive coercion is another factor that can cause women to use contraception inconsistently. Though this isn't strictly an access issue, family planning clinics have a role to play in helping women recognize and prevent reproductive coercion. Finally, how many of the women in this 54% are using a contraceptive method that's not right for them because they don't have knowledge of or access to a method that might work better, such as implants, IUDs, or sterilization?
  • What about that 46% of women who weren't using any method; there are a lot of educational issues there. Powers cites a Guttmacher Institute fact sheet that says, "About half of unintended pregnancies occur among the 11% of women who are at risk for unintended pregnancy but are not using contraceptives. Most of these women have practiced contraception in the past." Why did they stop using contraception? Did they have trouble finding a method that fit their bodies and lifestyles? Did they need more education to help them evaluate their risk for pregnancy? How is defunding family planning clinics — and remember, Congressional Republicans are trying to defund the entire Title X program, not just that part that goes to Planned Parenthood — going to do anything but make these problems worse?
  • It's true that 46% of women who get abortions weren't using any method of contraception, but most sexually active women of reproductive age do use it, at least to some extent. So a very small percentage of women — 11% — make up a huge percentage of women seeking abortions. Surely it's a worthy goal to keep that small percentage from becoming bigger by not making contraception harder to get.

None of this is an endorsement of Planned Parenthood as an organization. Their ideology is not ours. We believe in a sexual ethic of care and respect for all parties affected by a sexual act, including any children conceived. Still, the important point here is that family planning is vital and access in the U.S. isn't as good as it needs to be.