The Guttmacher Institute recently published a report concluding that birth control failure rates are decreasing across the country, after years of stagnated progress. Each method presented a gap between how well it works if used exactly how it is intended to be used, versus its “typical-use” failure rate, which measures how well the method works to prevent pregnancy in real-world conditions. Virtually every form of reversible birth control showed a decline in typical-use failure rates since 2002, when the last study was conducted, including both condom use and hormonal methods like the pill and hormone-based intrauterine devices (IUDs). Birth control failures also declined in nearly every demographic group, including low-income women and women of color. This means fewer unintended pregnancies for women who choose to use family planning methods, enhancing their ability to choose when and if they become pregnant.
Although researchers did not explicitly determine the cause of the phenomenon, the results support the National Women’s Health Network’s longstanding philosophy that women’s health is best addressed by empowering women to make the best health care decision that is right for them.
How well a birth control method works can depend on a variety of factors, but two of the most important factors are access and empowerment. Is a woman adequately educated about each method? Does she have access to the contraception of her choice? Has she been informed about how to maximize the effectiveness of the treatment? When women are given good information about safe methods, they make decisions that lead to better health outcomes. Time and time again, we see that the greater power and information women have, the more their health and lives improve.
Giving women greater access and empowerment not only improves family planning; there are many other areas of women’s health which would benefit if lawmakers and providers focused on empowering women. One area is abortion, an issue the NWHN frequently advocates. Currently, there are many barriers for women seeking an abortion, including restrictive anti-abortion laws and inaccurate medical information circulating through crisis pregnancy centers. The NWHN fights to give women greater access and choice to abortion care. We worked to change the FDA restrictions on a medication abortion called Mifeprex, and continue to fight for it to be distributed at pharmacies instead of just in doctor’s offices and hospitals. This would give more women the option of medication abortion. We also support women’s choice to self-induce medication abortion without visiting a clinic if women cannot access care.
Every day, the NWHN is fighting for reproductive justice for women on issues just like these. The data from the Guttmacher report affirms that we are on the right track. We believe giving women even greater access, information, and choice in their healthcare will continue to benefit women’s health and transform their lives.
Caila Brander, MSc, is a former NWHN Policy Fellow, and a current NWHN member. Her work as a public health researcher has been featured in the international AIDS 2020 and Interest 2020 conferences. Today, Caila informs women’s health policy as Senior Program Associate at Results for Development.
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