A five-year study in St. Louis, in which more than 9,250 women ages 14 to 45 were given free birth-control options and family-planning education, showed that women who have access to affordable contraception rarely have unintended pregnancies.
Since women who don't have unplanned pregnancies generally don't get abortions, the abortion rate in the St. Louis area declined more than 20 percent from 2008 to 2010, coinciding with the study.
Although the dramatic decline in the rate was not attributed entirely to the Washington University project, it is noteworthy that elsewhere in the state, the abortion rate stayed the same over the same period of time.
Equally striking was the impact that free birth control had on teenage pregnancy. While the national number of births to teens is 34.3 per 1,000 girls, it was only 6.3 pregnancies for every thousand teenage participants in the study, which was called the Contraceptive Choice Project.
The results of the study and the accompanying abortion rate decline were reported online at STLtoday and in Friday's editions of the newspaper by Blythe Bernhard of the Post-Dispatch staff.
Missouri lawmakers — particularly those who oppose abortion — ought to look at this study and pledge to find money in the state budget next year to provide free or low-cost contraception to women and teenage girls across the state.
Another possibility: They can stop offering bogus objections to the Affordable Care Act, which requires private health insurance policies to cover prescription birth control pills and implants at no cost to those enrolled in the health care plans.
Every year in the Missouri Legislature, pro-choice lawmakers back efforts to make low-cost contraception available to women. And just as predictably, their efforts are battled back by abortion opponents who want to have it both ways.
The opponents work to block access to contraceptives, sex education and family planning. At the same time, they rail against abortion. They can't have it both ways.
Here they are: Actual facts. Not just slogans or beliefs, but math. If you want to reduce the number of abortions, make birth control easy to obtain. Lawmakers who oppose both birth control and abortion have a decision to make.
Abortion should be as safe and rare as it is legal. On both sides of the great abortion divide, legislators need to put some muscle behind efforts to make sure women have access to free or low-cost contraception.
Let's not hear the tired "it will just encourage promiscuity" argument. People will do whatever they're going to do. The question is whether you want to reduce abortions, or just shout slogans.
While they're at it, legislators also ought to spring for family-planning and contraception education. The Washington University contraception project showed that after women were educated about different types of birth control, three-quarters of them chose implantable methods.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says that long-acting and reversible birth control options, such as intrauterine devices and under-the-skin implants, are the most effective.
The project's lead researcher, Dr. Jeff Piepert, put the situation into perspective when he said contraception is key to reducing unintended pregnancies and abortions.
"We need to remove cost barriers," Dr. Piepert added. "I think all women should have equal access."
The National Center for Health Statistics says that about half the pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended and that about half of those end in abortion.
Following that train of thought, the comments by Lawrence Finer of the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health organization, are a natural progression.
"If you can make a dent in unintended pregnancy, it's likely to make a dent in abortions," Mr. Finer said.
Missouri legislators need to help women prevent unintended pregnancies and abortions regardless of what their views are on abortion. And they need to do it now.