Freebies Can Reduce Teen Pregnancies

October 6, 2014

People like free stuff, especially teenagers. And if you give them free birth control, particularly LARC, they tend to use it.

Free contraception and education on birth control dramatically reduced teen pregnancies, a study published this week found.

Researchers from Washington University School of Medicine found that promoting birth control among sexually active teens not only led to fewer pregnancies but also greatly reduced the number of subsequent births and abortions.

Key Findings

- Access to free contraception and education on the various birth control methods available dramatically reduced teen pregnancies, births, and abortions.

- Teens overwhelmingly preferred IUDs or implants.

"When we removed barriers to contraception for teens, such as lack of knowledge, limited access and cost in a group of teens, we were able to lower pregnancy, birth, and abortion rates," said Gina Secura, PhD, the study's first author and director of the CHOICE Project, in a news release. "This study demonstrates there is a lot more we can do to reduce the teen pregnancy rate."

Among teens in the study, the annual pregnancy rate from 2008 to 2013 was 34 per 1,000. By comparison, nationally, the teen pregnancy rate for sexually active teens was 15.5 per 1,000 in 2008.

Similarly during the study’s five-year span, the average annual birth rate among sexually active teens was 19.4 per 1,000. Again the comparison to the national data is dramatic, considering in 2008 the average annual birth rate among sexually active teens was 94 per 1,000.

The annual abortion rate among teens in the study plummeted to 9.7 per 1,000 for the five-year study, compared with 41.5 per 1,000 in 2008 for sexually active US teens.

The study results are published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Investigators enrolled 1,404 teens in the Contraceptive CHOICE Project, which provided access to birth control, including long-acting forms such as intrauterine devices. Offering IUDs and implants proved extremely important, as 72% of those enrolled chose a long-acting reversible contraceptive method. And those who chose an IUD or implant continued to use them for longer than participants who selected shorter-acting methods of birth control, such as the pill.

The teens chose from a number of birth control options besides IUDs, including birth control pills, patches, rings, condoms, or natural family planning. All the methods were provided for free.

"We were pleasantly surprised by the number of teens choosing IUDs and implants and continuing to use them," said Jeffrey Peipert, MD, PhD, principal investigator of the CHOICE Project and the Robert J. Terry Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, in the news release. "It's exciting that this study could provide insight into how to tackle this major health problem that greatly affects teens, their children, and their communities."