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More access to contraception increases abortion demand? No, that’s not right.

PolitiFact | Research shows that improved contraceptive use has helped reduce unintended pregnancies.
 
Birth control pills rest on a counter in Centreville, Maryland, on July 6, 2022.
Birth control pills rest on a counter in Centreville, Maryland, on July 6, 2022. [ JIM WATSON | GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA ]
Published Jan. 26, 2023|Updated Jan. 27, 2023

Reproductive health researchers have often repeated the talking point that expanded access to birth control leads to fewer unwanted pregnancies and helps drive down the rate of abortions.

But some contend the reverse is true.

“Planned Parenthood has always claimed that their birth control programs are designed to prevent the need for abortion. They argue that contraceptive services lower unwanted pregnancy rates. This is a lie. Lie. Lie,” read a Jan. 11 Instagram post by Seth Gruber, an antiabortion activist. “A number of studies have demonstrated that as contraception becomes more accessible, the number of unwanted pregnancies actually rises, thus increasing the demand for abortion.”

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about PolitiFact’s partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

There is no credible evidence that supports this claim. The sources Gruber cites in his post date to the 1980s and include news articles and opinion papers.

Gruber declined to provide more information about his sources or his claim.

“This claim is false and is not grounded in science,” said Christopher Zahn, chief of clinical practice and health equity and quality for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “The spread of medical misinformation, myths and fallacies is harmful for patients. People seeking information about their health online should refer only to reliable sources.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that most unintended pregnancies result from women not using contraception or not using it consistently or correctly. (Although some unintended pregnancies may result in births, the Brookings Institution found unintended pregnancies account for more than 90% of abortions.)

Meanwhile, current research shows that improved contraception use — in the U.S. and around the world — has played a large role in reducing unintended pregnancies and, subsequently, abortions.

  • A 2019 study by the World Health Organization in 36 low- and middle-income countries found that two-thirds of sexually active women who wished to delay or limit childbearing stopped using contraception for fear of side effects, health concerns and because they underestimated the likelihood of conception. This led to 1 in 4 pregnancies being unintended.
  • A 2014 study in Iowa found that declines in resident abortions followed increased usage of long-acting contraceptives, such as intrauterine devices. This came after the state increased access to family planning services through a Medicaid expansion and a privately funded initiative.
  • A 2012 study from the Washington University School of Medicine showed that providing free birth control to women substantially reduced unplanned pregnancies and abortions.

“Our researchers say there is no evidence to support” the Instagram post’s claims, said Emma Stoskopf-Ehrlich, a spokesperson for the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion rights research group. “All reputable research indicates that contraception use lowers the risk of unintended pregnancy.”

A 2016 analysis by Guttmacher concluded that a steep drop in abortions from 2008 to 2011 was driven by a decline in unintended pregnancies largely spurred by more and better contraceptive use.

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The authors added that the results echo earlier trends that helped drive pregnancy, birth and abortion rates among U.S. teens to record lows.

“Research shows that the teen pregnancy declines between 1995 and 2002 were overwhelmingly the result of improvements in contraceptive use, accounting for 86% of the decline (and teens delaying sex for the remaining 14%),” the report said. “Even more so, the continued teen pregnancy declines between 2003 and 2010 — a period with no changes in teen sexual activity — were entirely due to contraceptive use.”

Amanda Stevenson, a University of Colorado sociology professor who studies the impact of reproductive health policies, said the post contains a collection of misleading and false claims and misrepresents theoretical arguments about historical social change.

“This is part of a border effort to stigmatize contraception by associating it with abortion,” Stevenson added, “and that effort is the basis for the emerging movement to restrict contraception. They’re going to throw everything at the wall until they find something that sticks. They’re also trying to make it sound like contraception is dangerous and that it is abortion — it’s not.”

Related: Amid abortion battle, they chose permanent birth control. Here's why.

The post makes other problematic claims.

One slide shows several inaccurate figures on the effectiveness of individual contraceptives. It also includes contraception methods with higher failure rates that are no longer used widely, such as spermicides.

“The failure rates for the contraceptive methods are way off — especially for the IUD, which is over 99% effective,” said Daniel Grossman, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco.

Our ruling

An Instagram post claims that more contraception availability increases abortion demand.

That isn’t accurate. The sources the post cites date to the 1980s, and contraceptive options and usage trends have changed dramatically since then.

Most unintended pregnancies result from women not using contraception or not using it consistently or correctly, experts say. Reputable, current research shows that improved contraceptive use has helped reduce unintended pregnancies and decrease the rate of abortions.

We rate this False.

PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.