Giving teens free birth control encourages them to use long-acting methods and greatly cuts the chances they will become pregnant or have an abortion, a new study finds.
The average annual pregnancy rate was 34 per 1,000 girls in the study – far below the national average of 158.5 for sexually active teens.
Doctors say the results show that when money is not a factor, teens will chose IUDs and hormone implants over less reliable methods such as birth control pills or condoms. Nearly three-fourths of teens in the study picked long-acting methods; only 5 percent of U.S. teens use those now.
“When costs are removed, young people and families will use these effective methods,” said Dr. Mary Ott of Indiana University. She had no role in the study but led an American Academy of Pediatrics’ policy statement earlier this week urging long-acting contraception, a stance other doctor groups endorse.
She said the study shows that more can be done to curb teen pregnancy. “It’s good for the teens and it’s cost-effective for society” to offer free, effective birth control, Ott said.
The study was led by Gina Secura and Dr. Jeffrey Peipert of Washington University in St. Louis. Results are in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine.
The study involved a project in St. Louis that offered 1,400 girls their choice of methods but stressed the benefits of IUDs and hormone implants that last three to 10 years. The girls were at high risk of unintended pregnancy – nearly 500 were just 14 to 17 when they enrolled, and half of those young teens had already been pregnant and 18 percent had had an abortion.
During follow-up between 2008 and 2013, the average annual birth rate was 19.4 per 1,000 teens in the study, versus 94 for sexually active teens in the general population. The comparable abortion rates were 9.7 versus 41.5.
Of the 56 pregnancies that occurred during the study, teens reported using no birth control at the time of conception in 25 cases. Only two with IUDs became pregnant. Thirteen said they had been using birth control pills and nine reported using condoms. Other methods accounted for the rest.
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