Thursday, March 18, 2010

Irish Health: Free contraception link to less abortion

Posted: Mon 15/03/2010 by Deborah Condon

Offering young women free hormonal contraception could lead to a significant fall in abortions, the results of a new health project indicate.

As part of the project, 3,500 women aged 20-24, who were living in two different cities in Norway, were offered free hormonal contraception for one year. By the end of the year, the abortion rate in both cities had halved.

The Norwegian Directorate of Health initiated the project after a previous project led to similar success. In 2002, Norwegian women aged between 16 and 19 were offered free hormone-based contraception. Abortion rates fell dramatically and reached their lowest level in 2005.

In 2006, after the authorities modified the scheme and introduced part-payment for hormonal contraception, the number of terminations among this age group began to rise again. Since then, the abortion rate among 16 to 19-year-olds has risen every year.

This latest project focused on women aged 20 to 24 because they have the highest abortion rate in Norway and this rate has risen steadily over the past few years.

According to the project manager, Anita Øren, this study demonstrates that when women in this age group are offered free contraception, their abortion rate falls.

The participants claimed that an important reason for their continuous use of the contraception was the fact that it was free. Many indicated that they tend to avoid using contraception when they are less well-off.

The researchers also looked at how the contraceptives were picked up from chemists, both before and during the study period. The figures clearly showed that users picked up their contraception more often during the period when it was free.

“The offer of free hormonal contraception does not necessarily lead to more users, but to more frequent use. If the aim is to reduce the number of terminations, the project shows that the offer of free hormonal contraception can be an effective measure. It is also what women themselves say that they want,” Ms Øren said.

In the cities involved in the trial, the use of long-term methods of contraception such as IUDs/implants more than doubled. These methods work continuously for three to five years and provide the best protection against unwanted pregnancies. As a one-off investment, however, they are regarded as more expensive alternatives to the oral contraceptive pill.

“Women themselves say that they are very pleased to have the freedom to choose the type of product they prefer, irrespective of price,” Ms Øren added.