Originally published on October 22, 2012, on bedsider.org
The vast majority of sexually active women — 99% — have used birth control at some point. Doesn’t sound very controversial, right? Yet somehow a whole lot of folks seem to be “discussing” birth control lately—and they don’t always have the facts straight.
You may have noticed birth control is what we’re all about, so we wanted to share 5 facts we think everyone should know about birth control in the U.S.
1. It’s a win for taxpayers and businesses.
- Taxpayers benefit. Unplanned pregnancy costs U.S. taxpayers $12 billion a year. A big chunk of that number comes from the cost of providing health care for low-income women during and after the birth of their child through Medicaid. Medicaid covers 41% of births in the U.S.—the average cost for one of those births as of 2008 was $12,613. On the other hand, Medicaid spent an average of $257 to cover birth control for one person that same year. That comes out to $3.74 in taxpayer savings for every dollar invested in birth control through Medicaid.
- Businesses benefit. Back in February, TIME published an article about why health reform won’t increase insurance costs, making the case that insurance companies benefit from helping their customers prevent unplanned pregnancies they’d have to pay for down the line. The National Business Group on Health recommends that businesses help their female employees plan their pregnancies—including providing coverage of all FDA-approved prescription birth control methods at no cost—as a way to save money.
2. It reduces abortion.
Earlier this month, two studies—one from researchers in St. Louis and the other from researchers in Iowa—provided solid evidence that access to effective birth control can make a difference in this arena. Both studies made super-effective birth control methods available and affordable to local women over several years—and both studies resulted in major decreases in unplanned pregnancy and abortion.
On the national level, almost half of all pregnancies in the U.S. were unplanned as of 2006—and 43% of those unplanned pregnancies ended in abortion. Of all the women in the U.S. who are having sex and not trying to get pregnant, two-thirds of them use birth control consistently and correctly—and those birth control superstars account for only 5% of unplanned pregnancies. The other 95% of unplanned pregnancies were to the third of U.S. women who weren’t trying to get pregnant but weren’t using birth control or were using it incorrectly or inconsistently.
3. It’s got some serious benefits for women.
The most obvious benefit of birth control is that it allows folks to control when and whether they become parents—kind of a big deal. This amazing benefit leads to some other perks, too—for women, their partners, and their families.
- A toast to your health. Pregnancy is always risky business but it can be riskier when it’s not planned. Women who aren’t trying to get pregnant are less likely to have prenatal care early in their pregnancies (partly, no doubt, because they may not realize they’re pregnant), and their children are more likely to be exposed to harmful stuff like tobacco, alcohol, or caffeine in utero.
- A toast to your wallet. Fortunately, this particular birth control benefit isn’t exactly a secret these days. In a survey released in September, U.S. women credited birth control with allowing them to take better care of themselves or their families (63%), support themselves financially (56%), complete their education (51%), and keep or get a job (50%). 65% of those women also said the number one reason they’re using birth control is because they can’t afford a baby right now. It’s not just opinions, either; research shows birth control has meant major economic benefits for women in the U.S.
4. Access can be a problem.
People have lots of opinions about how accessible birth control is in the U.S. The fact is that while condoms may be easy to buy and generic versions of the pill may be relatively cheap at your local supermarket or drugstore, almost all birth control methods—including the most effective options—require a visit (or several visits) to a health care provider.
For women who need a special brand of birth control or who want a more effective, lower-maintenance method like the IUD or the implant, birth control can cost a lot more than a trip to Starbucks. 55% of 18-34-year-olds say they’ve struggled with the cost of prescription birth control.
5. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) is already making a difference.
This isn’t first time we’ve talked about why the ACA rocks. It’s already making a difference for:
- Young folks, who can stay on their parents’ insurance plan until age 26; and
- The 47 million women who will be eligible for full coverage of any FDA-approved birth control method (not to mention birth control counseling, STI screening, and a bunch of other awesome preventive services) without having to pay deductibles or co-pays.
More and more people should be benefiting from the ACA over the coming year and we’ll be asking around to see how it’s affecting people now and in the near future.
Access and education FTW!
Back to that study in St. Louis for a moment… It was called the Contraceptive CHOICE Project and they provided almost 10,000 local women with birth control counseling and access to any method they wanted for free. 75% of participants chose a super-effective method like the IUD or the implant (that’s compared to about 8% of the general public). Because the Project participants were using such effective methods, their rates of unplanned pregnancy—and, by extension, abortion—were way lower than the national average. Participants who chose the super-effective methods were also happier with their birth control overall.
Research shows that programs to help low-income women get affordable birth control could majorly reduce unplanned pregnancy rates in the U.S. (and save taxpayers billions, to loop back to section 1)—and that the public supports those programs. By providing affordable birth control, publicly-funded “Title X” clinics helped women avoid almost a million unplanned pregnancies in 2008 (which would have resulted in 433,000 unplanned births and 406,000 abortions). Still, millions of U.S. women who are at risk for unwanted pregnancy can’t access or afford effective birth control.
Policies like Title X, Medicaid, and the ACA are already doing lots to help women in the U.S. to get the birth control method that’s best for them regardless of their economic or health insurance status. Building on these policies could have awesome results for women, their families, and the nation as a whole.
Will you do your part by making sure the people in your life have their facts straight?