Fortunately, many of us have access to one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century: birth control. Thanks to contraception, women have the ability to plan their families and their futures. As the Supreme Court acknowledged way back in the ‘90s: “The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.”
That’s why it’s so infuriating that the federal government is trying to limit access to contraception. Last month, several organizations sued the current administration for undermining programs designed to help low-income patients with their family planning needs. Policymakers' preferred method of birth control, it appears, is the rhythm method, which involves tracking your menstrual history to determine when you’re ovulating so you can abstain from getting it on. In some circles, it’s also known as, “Oh s**t, when was the last time I had my period?” followed by tears.
According to a recent study from the University of Utah, when cost isn’t an issue, women choose more effective forms of birth control, such as IUDs and implants. The research comes from the HER Salt Lake Contraceptive Initiative, a partnership between the University of Utah Family Planning Research Group and Planned Parenthood Association of Utah. Their findings, published in February, are just the latest to confirm that money is a deterrent to the most effective ways of staying kid-free. (An IUD, for example, could cost a woman almost $1,000.)
In a recent interview with Bustle, Dr. David Turok, an associate professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology and one of the authors on the study, shared how their work stands out: “What is new here is that we started on a platform of client centered contraceptive counseling that was focused on the client leaving with their desired method, knowing that they could return as many times as they liked during the next three years to change methods for free if desired.”
During three six-month segments, the project provided free contraception to 7,400 patients who visited four Planned Parenthood clinics in Salt Lake County; more than 4,400 women were enrolled in the three-year study. “When looking at the initiative as a whole,” the study states, “HER-participating Salt Lake County health centers placed an average of 90 more devices per month than did non-HER clinics. Following the removal of cost and increasing clinic capacity, there was a significantly increased level change in IUD and implant use in the HER-participating health centers compared with non-HER health centers by an average of 59 IUDs and implants per month.”
In addition to serving as an example of how critical Planned Parenthood is for family planning services—especially in a state that voted against Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act—the study also reiterates the importance of dismantling barriers to different methods of contraception. “The point here is not that we were able to increase the proportion of people walking out of clinic with IUDs and implants,” Dr. Turok said, “but that more people left with their desired method and when we removed all cost barriers more left with these methods.”
As the study states, “even in the 21st century, access to these essential services is still not universal, and federal- and state-level policies can either support or hinder women’s access to contraception.”
Since federal officials insist on leaving behind comprehensive sexual health services in favor of counting days on a calendar, we can only hope states and more initiatives like HER Salt Lake step up and fill these unnecessary gaps.