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Free contraception reduces teen abortions by a third in Vantaa

Rates of unintended pregnancies and teen abortions have fallen in Vantaa since the city made contraceptives free for women and girls.

An assortment of condoms, one of the most common forms of contraception. Image: AOP

The abortion rate among young women and girls has decreased significantly in Vantaa since the city began providing free contraception in 2013.

Originally young women were given their first long-term contraceptive method – such as an IUD or implant – free of charge.

Since then the city has expanded its policy. Starting in May, all Vantaa women and girls under the age of 20 have been offered completely free contraceptives of all kinds – including condoms, birth control pills, intravaginal rings, transdermal patches and other long-term contraceptive solutions.

City health centre doctor and Helsinki University post-doc Frida Gyllenberg co-authored the report that included the findings, and has researched the effects of free contraceptives for three years.

"When you offer free contraception, abortion rates go down," Gyllenberg says, referencing similar findings from 2015. "However this only applies to people under the age of 25."

Finland's abortion rate is one of the lowest in the world already, at some 9,000 operations per year. Gyllenberg adds that piloting free contraception in countries with higher rates such as the United States could cause even steeper decreases in abortions and unintended pregnancies.

Story continues after photo.

Image: Markku Ulander / Lehtikuva

Clear results

The report, published in the American Journal of Public Health, compared Vantaa's figures to those of neighbouring Espoo, where contraceptives are not provided gratis.

The results clearly indicated that the use of long-term contraceptives methods increased among young people and that the abortion rate had dropped by 16-20 percent.

The effect of the free birth control was most evident among the youngest demographic. Abortions among girls aged under 20 fell by more than a third (36 percent). For those aged 20-24 the decrease was 14 percent. Adults included in the report were not affected strongly either way.

Gyllenberg says that while it is clear that free contraception leads to fewer abortions, the actual municipal savings accrued by the move cannot yet be accurately estimated.

"Suffice it to say that here in Vantaa the free birth control did not prompt extra expenses among the under-25s, and for the under-20s it actually decreased expenses," she says. "The savings depend on the size of the municipality and the extent of its teen pregnancy problem."

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Birth control pills are also free for teens in Vantaa. Image: Antti Kolppo / Yle

Human issue

Gyllenberg points out the when it comes to teen pregnancy and abortion, relieving human suffering is at least as important as the financial gains to be made. The report she co-authored compared only the direct costs of contraception vs. abortion, and that additional study would be needed to gauge the other costs and psychological burdens involved.

Gyllenberg also emphasises the rights of every woman.

"Terminating a pregnancy is not necessarily a bad thing, and every woman must have the right to choose it if they wish, no matter how much money they make. This is a human rights issue."

Gyllenberg says the results from the three-year study in Vantaa are very encouraging.

"I really hope that people of all kinds and especially decision-makers will find the motivation to investigate these highly positive results."

A total of 35 Finnish municipalities offer some kind of free contraception, though nearly a hundred others have yet to take the advice of the National Institute of Health and Welfare and offer birth control without charge.

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