Free morning-after pill does NOT reduce abortion and pregnancy rates

You may have read the Fairfax Media article this morning on Stuff.co.nz about the fact that the Canterbury District Health Board is not keen to back a new proposal to make the morning-after pill free for women under the age of 25 (they also rejected a similar proposal earlier this year).

Good on them, because the research is very clear on this issue: increased availability of the morning-after pill does NOT reduce the rates of teenage pregnancy or abortion.

Some facts…

March, 2013:
Swedish media report on new statistics showing that, despite “soaring” rates of morning-after pill use in Sweden, since it was made readily available there 12 years ago, the Swedish abortion rate has increased from 18.4 abortions per 1,000 women in 1997, to 20.9 in 2012.

According to Catharina Zätterström, deputy chairwoman at the Swedish Association of Midwives: “our hope was that the pill would bring down the abortion rates… we really thought it would have an influence, but it hasn’t worked out that way. It’s very strange and saddening.”

December 2012:
US researcher Christine Piette Durrance publishes a new study of morning-after pill use in Washington State. It shows that increased access to emergency contraception actually increased rates of sexually transmitted disease, and did nothing to reduce the number of abortions or pregnancies.

Here’s what her abstract states: “The results indicate that while county-level access to emergency contraception was unrelated to trends in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and abortions before access changed, access afterwards led to a statistically significant increase in STD rates (gonorrhea rates), both overall and for females. We do not find, however, an impact of pharmacy access on abortion or birth rates.”

March 2011:
A new study of morning-after pill usage in England is published. The research compared areas of England where the morning-after pill was available to teens free of charge at pharmacies, with areas where free emergency contraception had not yet been rolled out. The study found that sexual disease rates had increased by 12 percent, and the teen pregnancy rate had NOT decreased in the regions where teens had free access to the morning-after pill.

July 2010:
The Auckland District Health Board announced that it will cease funding a free morning-after pill scheme after analysis of their 12 month trial of the programme showed that there was no statistically significant change in the Auckland abortion rate. In other words; handing out the morning-after pill free in Auckland did NOTHING to reduce the number of abortions taking place there.

March 2011:
The highly regarded Cochrane Library Review publishes a review of 11 trials involving 7,695 women from the US, China, India and Sweden which showed that making emergency contraception easily accessible (literally in women’s private homes) did nothing to reduce the pregnancy rate.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture: the Canterbury District Health Board is actually doing the right thing here by refusing to waste time and resources on a scheme that the research very clearly shows will be an absolute and dismal failure.

Astute readers of this morning’s article on Stuff.co.nz will have also noticed a couple of other points worthy of mention here:

1. The article states that (emphasis added):

“The move, to allow pharmacists to dish out the emergency contraceptive pill (ECP) free to women under the age of 25, has already been hailed a success in other regions

What other regions?

As I mentioned above, the country’s largest region actually rejected a free morning-after pill scheme because their 12 month trial showed that it didn’t work. The only other region mentioned in the Stuff.co.nz article is Waikato, but as Canterbury District Health Board planning and funding general manager Carolyn Gullery pointed out to Stuff.co.nz; the Waikato programme “not been evaluated”.

So once again I ask: which other regions exactly does this Fairfax Media reporter have in mind when he claims that free morning-after pill programmes have “already been hailed a success in other regions”, and why are these supposed successes in other regions not actually reported in the article?!

2. The article makes the following totally unsubstantiated and highly dubious factual claim:

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I have already used the official NZ abortion statistics to debunk this claim here and here. The NZ abortion rate actually began it’s decrease around 2004, a full 6 years before long-acting contraceptives were even made freely available here in NZ.