Washington: Free birth control led to dramatically lower rates of abortions and teen births, a large US study concludes.
The findings come as a bitterly contested Obama administration policy is poised to offer similar coverage.
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 mistake-proof options like the IUD or a matchstick-sized implant.
When price wasn't an issue, women flocked to the most effective contraceptives the implanted options, which typically cost hundreds of dollars 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 on 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 to 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women in the study, compared with 13.4 to 17 abortions per 1,000 women overall in the St Louis region, Peipert calculated. That's lower than the national rate, too, which is almost 20 abortions per 1,000 women.
In fact, if the program were expanded, one abortion could be prevented for every 79 to 137 women given a free contraceptive choice, Peipert's team reported in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Nearly half of the nation's 6 million-plus pregnancies each year are unintended. An estimated 43 per cent of them end in abortion. Low-income women are far more likely to have an unplanned pregnancy than their wealthier counterparts.
"We shouldn't have, in my view, a tiered system where the women with money can get family planning and the women without cannot," said Peipert, noting that 39 per cent of the women in his study had trouble paying basic expenses.
The findings of the study, which ran from 2008 to 2010, come as millions of US women are beginning to get access to free contraception with most workplace insurance plans under President Barack Obama's health care law. Women's health specialists said the research foreshadows that policy's potential impact.
"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," said Alina Salganicoff, director of women's health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation.


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