Though teen birth rates have dropped in the past several decades, more than 750,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 still get pregnant in the United States each year. But what would happen if young women were simply given free birth control and educated about the best contraceptive options available to them?
Researchers with the Washington University School of Medicine set out to tackle that question, and the answer, they found is clear: When teenagers have access to free, long-acting contraception, pregnancies, births and abortions plunge well below current national averages.
The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday, took place over a five-year period and included more than 1,400 girls, ages 15 to 19, from the St. Louis area. Researchers provided the teens with basic contraceptive counseling, presenting the most effective options first -- namely, long-acting reversible methods like intrauterine devices and implants.
After counseling, 72 percent of the participants in the so-called Contraceptive CHOICE Project chose long-acting reversible methods, while the remaining 28 percent went with other forms, including the birth control pill. The project provided all the teens with their choice of contraception for free.
The researchers then followed up with the teenagers to see whether the education and access to birth control had any effect. What they found was striking: Between 2008 and 2013, the average annual rate of pregnancy among teens enrolled in the study was 34 per 1,000 -- compared to 158.5 per 1,000 among sexually active teens in the United States in 2008.
Similarly, abortion rates were significantly lower among teens in the study -- just 9.7 per 1,000, compared to 41.5 per 1,000 among sexually active teen girls nationwide.
SEE CONTRACEPTIVE CHOICE PROJECT WEBSITE AND RESOURCES HERE