When Norwegian researchers offered free contraception for one year to young women living in Tromso and Hamar in Norway, the abortion rate in those cities was cut in half. Could free contraception be an effective way to reduce abortion rates in other cities around the world?
Norwegian Contraception Study
The Norwegian project, which was conducted on behalf of the Directorate of Health and by SINTEF Technology and Society (The Foundation for Scientific and Industrial Research), included 3,500 women ages 20 to 24. This is the age group with the highest abortion rate in Norway. Four cities were included in the project: two where women received free contraception and two used for comparison.
The investigators found that 93 percent of the Norwegian women studied reported using hormonal contraception, and that the number of women who used this form of birth control did not increase during the study. What improved, however, was their continuity of use. While the women tended to skip taking their hormonal contraception when they had to purchase it themselves and cost was a factor, they were more likely to not miss their doses when the contraception was free. Better compliance with contraception use leads to a reduced chance of pregnancy.
In Tromso and Hamar, the use of long-term contraceptive methods such as IUDs and hormonal spirals more than doubled. These methods are more expensive than the Pill as a one-time investment. According to Anita Oren, research manager of the study, “Women themselves say that they are very pleased to have the freedom to choose the type of product they prefer, irrespective of price.”
The contraceptive methods offered in the study included the Pill, contraceptive injections, patches, vaginal rings, IUDs, implants, hormone spirals, and copper spirals.
Abortion Around the World
The Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that advances sexual and reproductive health worldwide through education, research, and policy analysis, notes that nearly 50 percent of pregnancies among American women are unintended, and 40 percent of these are ended by abortion. Twenty-two percent of all pregnancies (excluding miscarriages) in the US end in abortion. In 2005, an estimated 1.2 million abortions were done in the United States.
Globally, 46 million babies die from abortion, or about one baby every two seconds, according to the website Bound4life. More than half (56%) of all women who are having abortions between the ages of 15 and 44 are in their twenties.
It appears that offering free contraception to young women is an effective way to cut the abortion rate. In 2002, free hormone-based birth control was offered to Norwegian women ages 16 to 19, and abortion rates declined dramatically. When the one-year project was over, young women were offered reduced-rate contraception, and the number of abortions began to climb again. If offering free contraception works in Norway, it seems entirely possible that it could work in other places around the world. There appears to be workable solution to unintended pregnancies and abortions. Cities hand out free needles to drug users, why not contraception?
SINTEF Technology & Society, Mar. 13, 2010