As congressional efforts to defund Planned Parenthood gain momentum, it is unsurprising that the abortion provider is fighting back. The group recently funded a study — carried out by the liberal think tank Child Trends — which makes some outlandish claims about the purported health benefits of contraception.
The study claims that if all women of childbearing age could access a complete range of contraception methods, both the unintended-pregnancy rate and the abortion rate would fall by more than 60 percent, saving Americans over $12 billion a year. This study has already received uncritical coverage from a number of mainstream media outlets including Time, Yahoo Health, and Mic.com
It should come as no surprise that this study has number of methodological problems. The authors extrapolate from a 2015 study in which 20 Planned Parenthood clinics across the United States improved their counseling and offered women access to a wider range of contraceptive methods. Women who went to these Planned Parenthood clinics were likely to switch away from condoms in favor of more reliable forms of contraceptives, including the birth control pill and Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARCs). The authors of this 2015 study found some short-term evidence that women who sought contraception at these Planned Parenthood clinics had lower unintended-pregnancy rates than women in a control group.
However, the authors of the new Child Trends study simply assume that the greater use of more reliable contraceptives will automatically reduce the unintended-pregnancy rate. They overlook the possibility that many women who use contraceptives do not do so consistently. They also fail to consider the way in which access to more reliable forms of contraceptives might affect the frequency of sexual activity. Finally, they ignore the fact that LARCs — which are thought to be the most reliable form of contraception — have a high discontinuance rate.
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