Wednesday is World Contraception Day, so it seems appropriate that the Guttmacher Institute has released a study concluding that access to birth control has significantly improved the quality of life for American women by giving them more opportunity to achieve their own personal and professional goals.
The study, one of the first of its kind to directly ask women what benefits they have received from using contraception, surveyed more than 2,000 women from 22 family planning clinics across the nation. The results confirmed what most people, in this day and age, already believe: Women use contraception because it ultimately allows them to better care for their families, complete their education and achieve economic autonomy.
"Women value the ability to plan their childbearing and view doing so as critical to being able to achieve their life goals," study author Laura Lindberg said in a statement. "They need continued access to a wide range of contraceptives so they can plan their families and determine when they are ready to have children."
More than half of the women polled -- 63 percent -- said access to contraception has allowed them to take better care of themselves and their families, allows them to support themselves financially (56 percent), complete their education (51 percent) and find employment (50 percent). When asked just why they were currently using birth control, the single most-cited reason was that they could not afford to care for a child.
Lawrence B. Finer, who authored a previous study for the Guttmacher Institute on this topic, points out that the reasons women gave for using contraception are almost identical to those cited by women seeking abortions.
"This means we should see access to abortion in the broader context of women's lives and their efforts to avoid unplanned childbearing, in light of its potential consequences for them and their families,” Finer said.
Nearly half of U.S. pregnancies are unintended and are primarily concentrated among teenagers as well as low-income, unmarried women. According to an analysis of several studies from the Brookings Institute, unplanned pregnancy and childbearing leads to lower levels of educational attainment and labor force participation for the mothers, as well as poorer academic, economic and health outcomes for their children.
It also has a major economic impact on the nation. Brookings estimates the taxpayer subsidized medical care related to unplanned pregnancies surpasses $12 billion per year. According to the think tank, the main causes of unintended pregnancies are a lack of motivation among young people to avoid pregnancy until it actually occurs, a poor understanding among teens and young adults of just how to use various methods of contraception, and the cost of actually acquiring birth control.
Although the Obama administration recently aimed to make contraception more accessible to women by requiring employer-sponsored health plans to provide that medication without a copayment, conservative lawmakers are up in arms about the policy, a provision of the administration’s health care reform law. Republicans, claiming the provision violates the religious liberty of some employers, have attempted to repeal the mandate on multiple occasions this year. Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has vowed to repeal the contraception mandate on the first day in the White House if Mitt Romney wins in November.
But while the GOP may not see the need for increased access to contraception, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention certainly does. Back in 1999, the agency named the development of modern contraception as one of the 10 most important public health achievements of the 20th century.