One of the most unfortunate trends in our day is Politics Posing as Medical Science, as MARRI director Dr. Pat Fagan points out in a post on the MARRI blog. Dr. Jeffrey Peipert, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri, helped author a study on the effects of birth control that was released just in advance of the presidential election. The study, titled Preventing Unintended Pregnancies by Providing No-Cost Contraception, was designed to promote the use of long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) methods (intrauterine devices [IUDs] and implants) and provide contraception at no cost to a large cohort of participants in an effort to reduce unintended pregnancies in our region.
In other words, the Peipert study tries to suggest that the HHS contraceptive mandate is beneficial to society because, in the words of an NBC News report, offering women free birth control can reduce unplanned pregnancies and send the abortion rate spiraling downward.
Dr. Fagan explains, however, that it is impossible to draw this conclusion from the Peipert study. First, the studys methodology is flawed. The authors did not use a control group, exaggerated the statistical effect of LARCs on the abortion rate, and tracked data that were not generalizable to a larger population over the long term (for example, they only reported on abortions and births, not on public health outcomes like STDs).
Second, by concentrating only on abortions and unplanned births, the study ignores the whole life cycle of women. As Dr. Fagan explains, as social science has tracked the consequences of contraceptive use for the long-term marital, family, parenting, and sexual habits of the women involved, negative outcomes have been found to be typical.
My prediction is that young women who use these methods...will have many more sexual partners, behavior that itself increases the likelihood of procuring an abortion. The program will also have high STD effects, likely have very significant effects on future marital stability, and in turn have significantly weakening effects on these womens future childrens life outcomes.
According to the NBC article, experts, including Peipert, point out that no-cost contraception saves money. In 2011, the Guttmacher Institute calculated that unplanned pregnancies cost the United States $11 billion each year. Princeton University professor of economics James Trussell argues that using LARCs to reduce unplanned pregnancies will cut other, invisible costs as well for instance, by reducing the economic burden borne by on single teen mothers.
The best cost reduction plan, however, is not to flood the market with free birth control, but to encourage women and men who are sexually active to do so in the context of committed marriage. Not only is the married intact family our best insurance of economic prosperity, but growing up in an intact household reduces the likelihood of negative outcomes throughout a womans life including abortion and unplanned pregnancy.