I saw this story a while back but only got around to posting about it now – a study has shown how abortion rates can apparently be more than halved.
Note: This post was edited twice on 27 December to include discussion of IUDs based on some comments, and a revised conclusion.
The Washington University School of Medicine recently reported on a 4-year study involving almost ten thousand women considered at risk of unintended pregnancy. The women were given expert advice on the use of different contraceptive methods, then offered their chosen method free.
The study found that subsequently the women had abortions far less often than the national average, a reduction of 62-78%. The rate of abortions in teens was reduced even more.
The study report indicates that the commonly used contraceptive pill is not nearly as reliable as long-acting methods like intrauterine devices (IUDs) or implants, because the pill isn’t always taken according to the instructions. However relatively few women use the more reliable methods, often because of cost, and many women use no contraception at all. Teens, the less educated and poorer women are the most likely to fall pregnant unintentionally.
Since 90% of abortions are due to unintended pregnancies, improving the use of contraceptives by making advice and more effective methods freely available would lead to a significant drop in abortions.
A christian response
Since most christians consider abortion to be taking life, you might expect christians to support such a program. But the idea presents problems to some christians:
- Some christians oppose the use of contraceptives generally.
- Some christians oppose the provision of “socialised healthcare”.
- Other christians believe providing contraceptives to teens only encourages sexual irresponsibility.
- Some women are unhappy with the use of IUDs because they can cause an early abortion.
Are the objections valid?
Each of us will have our own view, but I only find one of the objections of any concern at all:
- I see no good reason for christians to oppose the use of contraception, and I imagine most christian couples in western countries use contraception. And I cannot see how the government should impose christian ethics on its citizens when both health and significant cost savings are at stake.
- I have read the arguments against the government provision of healthcare, and I believe they are less based on christian thinking than on an unwillingness to care for the poor. Democracies are government “by the people and for the people”, so if the people choose to have a health “safety net” for the disadvantaged, I see no good reason why this shouldn’t be provided, just as governments legitimately provide police protection, education, transport infrastructure and environmental protection.
- While governments have a role in health, they don’t have a legitimate role in legislating christian ethics for all citizens. The sexual morality of teens is a matter for them and their parents.
- According to the medical information, IUDs work primarily by preventing sperm reaching the egg to fertilise it, but if fertilisation does occur, they prevent the fertilised egg from attaching to the lining of the uterus. Thus they can cause what is effectively a very early-term abortion, but this is said to be not the normal case. In any case, the program doesn’t mandate the use of IUDs, and other methods can be used. On the less frequent occasions when an egg is fertilised, it is quite possible that a later abortion would have occurred anyway. Thus the use of IUDs can overall be considered to be an improvement, albeit with some negatives for some people.
My views on this have developed through the writing and re-writing of this post. Overall I conclude that extending this program is a no-brainer – we save money, promote health and reduce the number of abortions. But I can understand that some people will choose not to take up the opportunity, and some will find the use of IUDs problematic, but the free availability of medical advice and the pill or implants would still be a significant step forward.
Other news reports
Photo: Flickr Creative Commons