A study released earlier this month was hailed in the media as an answer to the question of "do abortions go down if contraception is free?" The answer given was a resounding "yes".
This is how the study was hailed at NBC:
A dramatic new study with implications for next month’s presidential election finds that offering women free birth control can reduce unplanned pregnancies -- and send the abortion rate spiraling downward.But, is this true?
When more than 9,000 women ages 14 to 45 in the St. Louis area were given no-cost contraception for three years, abortion rates dropped from two-thirds to three-quarters lower than the national rate, according to a new report by Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis researchers.
I smelled something fishy about it all. I knew there have been other studies which have showed the opposite.
So, I sent the study to a friend, who is a non-medical Doctor who specializes in examining such data (the friend asked not to be cited, but gave permission to post information about the study). I asked him a simple question - "what do you think about this?"
This is what he sent back to me.
The fact that the study deals with contraception and unintended pregnancy is somewhat irrelevant. The main premise is subsidized behavior. If you generalize the thesis to “I am more likely to do what I intend to do if someone else pays for it,” then the particular subject matter could be virtually anything. You could study an ethically benign practice. Even better, imagine if there was a study funded that gave free money to self-identified thieves. Would you then be surprised to see an article that claimed “Crime rates drop with free money”?Some researchers aren't looking for the truth. Some researchers are looking to establish a "truth" they made up already. Even if it is a lie.
What are the main impediments to contraception and elective abortions used to prevent or end unwanted pregnancies? They would be:
Now consider the key elements of the study (emphasis added):
- moral reservations,
- health concerns,
- financial concerns.
So, we have a study where a group of medical professionals offer and administer free contraception to women who have no reservations about using it and have no desire to get pregnant. Do we really need a study involving over 9,000 women to tell us what is going to happen?
- “The Contraceptive Choice Project enrolled 9,256 women and adolescents in the St. Louis area between 2007 and 2011. Participants were 14-45 years of age, at risk for unintended pregnancy, and willing to start a new contraceptive method.”
- At no cost, “[p] articipants had their choice of birth control methods, ranging from long-acting forms like IUDs and implants to shorter-acting methods such as birth control pills, patches and rings.”
- “The women were counseled about the different methods, including their effectiveness, risks and benefits.”
The author of the study makes the intent clear: "[u]nintended pregnancy remains a major health problem in the United States.” It is unhealthy—bad—for women to have unintended pregnancies. What is the best way to prevent “unintended” health problems? If possible, vaccinate against them. What is the best way to get people to take the vaccine? Give it to them for free.
The conclusion is: well, since people are sensitive about abortion, this study shows that we can pay women to not have the babies they didn’t want to have anyway, and thus we can reduce the abortion rate. I’ll actually add a bonus conclusion to the study (at no charge): if you pay women not to have kids, all of a sudden, there will be a lot more women who don’t want to have kids, and thus we can further reduce the birth rate as well. Oh, wait a minute, if more women are using contraception since we are paying for it, and since there were still abortions resulting from the study even though the study participants were using contraception, doesn’t that mean that abortion rate might possibly go up? Looks like we might need another funded study.
The project web site can be found here.
So, to answer your question: it’s is crud.
Moral of the story - Don't believe every press release the media prints.
This isn't the first study like this that we have uncovered. Check out the first one from several years ago. I am sure there are many more we haven't been able to vet.