Here's an ideology many people find paradoxical: Criminalize abortion, and simultaneously make it more difficult for women to obtain contraceptives. That seems to be where the Republican-led Trump administration is headed, but new research points out why that approach may be flawed. Over the last several years, birth control has actually lowered the abortion rate, showing what can happen when women's reproductive health becomes a priority.
Between 2008 and 2014, the abortion rate among all women in the U.S. declined by 25 percent. That's according to a new study by the Guttmacher Institute, which reports that, during that time, the abortion rate fell from 19.4 to 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44. Although several factors undoubtedly contributed to the overall decline in abortions, the Guttmacher Institute first credited improvements in contraceptive use.
During the Obama administration, women's access to birth control and other methods of contraception expanded under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The ACA reduced costs and allowed young women to remain on their parents' health insurance until the age of 26. In fact, the Guttmacher Institute study noted a decline in the abortion rate from 2008 to 2014, while another study focused on the impacts of the ACA noted that the use of prescription birth control increased among women aged 20 to 25 from 50 percent to a whopping 89 percent of women from 2011 to 2013. The study reported that use of prescription birth control declined after 2013, but it still remained above its pre-2011 rate.
Now that the Obama administration is no more, access to contraception appears poised to decline. Last week, a leaked memo from the Trump administration reportedly called for the administration to cut Title X funding "in half at least." Title X funds family planning and birth control, and it is credited with avoiding hundreds of thousands of unplanned pregnancies each year.
The leaked memo came just a couple of weeks after the Republican administration took a definitive step to reduce access to birth control. Earlier this month, the administration announced that it was relaxing the standards for employers to claim a religious objection to the ACA's so-called birth control mandate. Under the ACA, employers are required to provide insurance coverage for birth control, unless they qualified for an exemption on religious grounds. Now, the Trump administration has broadened the rules, allowing any employer to claim a religious objection to providing birth control coverage.
According to Debra Hauser, president of Advocates for Youth and the 1 in 3 Campaign (which focuses on sharing the stories of women who have had abortions):
Our nation's policymakers are legislating based on ideology, not on scientific facts or lived experiences. ... The decision to have children — or how many — is a fundamental right. Just as fundamental is access to a full spectrum of reproductive health care services, including birth control, care during and after pregnancy, and abortion.
The new report from the Guttmacher Institute seems to say what reproductive health activists have known all along, giving them a scientific ground on which to assert their opposition to the Trump administration's recent policies.
Amber Gavin, director of programs for Lady Parts Justice League, tells Bustle:
The Trump administration has once again proved that its decisions are not based on facts, statistics, or science. ... Women will not, and should not, stop having pleasurable sex or be forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy because they are subject to sex at the demand of a domineering partner. For an Administration that claims to be morally and religiously opposed to abortion, to obliterate the birth control mandate in the ACA is outrageous.
The idea that birth control access can effectively reduce the number of abortions in the U.S. isn't entirely new. In 2012, a study from the Washington University School of Medicine showed that providing women with affordable or no-cost birth control could reduce abortion rates by 62 to 78 percent. That's a much sharper reduction in abortions than the nationwide decline measured by the Guttmacher Institute, but it demonstrates the potential that exists for fewer abortions if access to birth control is increased.
If Republicans truly want to eliminate abortions, perhaps it's time to consider a new approach. As reproductive health experts and their studies show, increasing access to birth control and giving women control over their bodies can go a long way to reducing abortions.