Wednesday October 10, 2012

Religious groups around the country are adamantly opposed to a provision in President Barack Obama’s health care law that requires most workplace insurance plans to make contraceptives available to women for free. The policy exempts churches that oppose contraception but requires religious-affiliated organizations, such as colleges or hospitals, to provide the coverage for their workers. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and many conservative groups say that violates religious freedom.

These organizations need to ask themselves which is more important: Sticking to their guns on birth control, or reducing the number of abortions in this country.

A new study released last week shows that providing free birth control options to women led to dramatically lower rates of abortions and teen births. The project tracked more than 9,000 women in St. Louis, many of them poor or uninsured. They were given their choice of a range of contraceptive methods at no cost -- from birth control pills to goof-proof options like implants.

When cost wasn’t an issue, women flocked to the most effective contraceptives -- the implanted options, which typically cost hundreds of dollars up-front to insert. These women experienced far fewer unintended pregnancies as a result, reported Dr. Jeffrey Peipert of Washington University in St. Louis in a study published last Thursday.

The effect on teen pregnancy was striking: There were 6.3 births per 1,000 teenagers in the study. Compare that to a national rate of 34 births per 1,000 teens in 2010. There also were substantially lower rates of abortion: 4.4 abortions per 1,000 women in the study, compared with the national rate of almost 20 abortions per 1,000 women.

Nearly half of the nation’s 6 million-plus pregnancies each year are unintended, according to an Associated Press report. An estimated 43 percent of them end in abortion. Overall, unplanned pregnancies cost U.S. taxpayers about $11 billion a year for costs linked with the one million unintended births.

Women’s health specialists said the research foreshadows the potential impact of Obama’s health care law.

"As a society, we want to reduce unintended pregnancies and abortion rates. This study has demonstrated that having access to no-cost contraception helps us get to that goal," Alina Salganicoff, director of women’s health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, told the Associated Press.

Dr. James T. Breeden, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, put it even more succinctly: "I would think if you were against abortions, you would be 100 percent for contraception access."