Anti-abortion rights group misrepresents data, claims birth control is ineffective, ‘deadly’

 Matt MahurinFor some, improving methods of pregnancy-prevention is an obvious middle ground in the abortion-rights debate; however, many of the same groups that oppose abortion rights often oppose public policies to expand sex education or improve access to affordable birth control. With the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service’s recent mandate that health plans cover contraceptive services, some anti-abortion rights groups have felt compelled to articulate their positions on birth control.

In a recent blog post titled, “A Question the Pro-Life Movement Must Answer,” the youth-focused anti-abortion rights group Students for Life of America (SFLA) describes what it refers to as “the pro-life movement’s stance on contraception,” boiled down to four main points:

1. Birth control – in any form – doesn’t prevent abortions; it provides a false sense of security.

To support this claim, SFLA cites the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that studies reproductive-health issues, which it claims reports that “condoms fail 14% of the time.” This claim links to a report from December 2003 about the implications of public policy that promotes abstinence-only education. This is the paragraph with the 14 percent failure-rate statistic about condoms:

People deserve to have consistent and accurate information about the effectiveness of all contraceptive methods. For example, if they are told that abstinence is 100% effective, they should also be told that, if used correctly and consistently, condoms are 97% effective in preventing pregnancy. If they are told that condoms fail as much as 14% of the time, they should be given a comparable typical-use failure rate for abstinence.

SFLA uses another Guttmacher report to justify the claim: “over half of all abortions are on women who were using some method of birth control. This is a cry in the face of pro-abortion propaganda claiming that if women had better access to birth control, abortions would become unnecessary.”

What this Guttmacher report, from May 2011, says:

Fifty-four percent of women who have abortions had used a contraceptive method (usually the condom or the pill) during the month they became pregnant. Among those women, 76% of pill users and 49% of condom users report having used their method inconsistently, while 13% of pill users and 14% of condom users report correct use.

2. Birth control comes with complications and risks. “I[n] some cases, it’s deadly for both the child and mother.”

Here, SFLA claims that hormonal birth control has "been proven to end the life of a preborn human mere hours or days after conception by thinning the uterine lining and making implantation more difficult for the developing person.” The group reports that oral contraceptives, commonly referred to as “the pill,” have been categorized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a “Group I carcinogen.” The corresponding link takes readers to a WHO statement (PDF) from September 2005, which states that the use of combined oral contraceptives (COCs) “modifies slightly the risk of cancer, increasing it is some sites (cervix, breast, liver), decreasing it in others (endometrium, ovary)."

According to the National Institutes of Health, oral contraceptives generally consist of the female hormones estrogen and progestin and work by preventing ovulation. They "change the lining of the uterus to prevent pregnancy from developing and change the mucus at the cervix to prevent sperm from entering.”

3. Condoms and birth control are everywhere … “yet the abortion and STD rate hasn’t fallen.”

SFLA claims that despite Planned Parenthood and public health departments giving out “free condoms and birth control for years,” the rate of unplanned pregnancy and abortion has “failed to fall” and that the rate of sexually transmitted diseases has “significantly increased." SFLA: “What’s even more scary is that Planned Parenthood knows this. They actually rely on the failure of the contraception they provide to increase their abortion profits.”

No sources (or years) are cited for these claims.

A Guttmacher report on induced abortions in the U.S. shows that in 2008, there were approximately 1.2 million abortions, with a rate of 19.6 abortions per 1,000 women aged 15-44, which was an increase from the rate in 2005 (19.4 per 1,000 women). According to Guttmacher, the abortion rate has been on a steady decline since 1990, when the reported abortions in the U.S. was at 1.6 million and the rate was 27.4 abortions per 1,000 women.

As far as the rate of STDs in this country, some, such as gonorrhea, have declined over the years, while others, such as chlamydia and syphilis, have increased, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (PDF). The rate of other STDS varies depending on region and demographic.

4. Birth control –- in any form -– is a Band-Aid.

SFLA does not suggest an alternative for contraception but offers the following advice:

Dolling out free condoms isn’t social justice. Handing over a pack of pills to an uneducated mother living in poverty with a man who doesn’t respect her enough to marry her isn’t restoring proper relationships in her life. … Protecting women from the scarring trauma of abortion and repairing broken relationships in her life seem to be the best way the pro-life movement can restore true social justice – Christian justice – to this woman’s life.

SFLA is not alone in its stance on contraception.

During a June appearance on the PBS TV- and Web-news magazine “Need to Know,” Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of another prominent anti-abortion rights group, Americans United for Life (AUL), said her group does not address the issue of birth control, “because there are differences of opinion on that.” She went on to explain that contraception is “a red herring that the abortion lobby likes to bring up by conflating abortion and birth control.”

In a profile of Yoest published last week, the Christian Science Monitor reported that the anti-abortion rights leader “bristle[d]” when asked about her personal use of birth control and refused to answer the question.

In fact, AUL has taken a position on contraception, by testifying against (PDF) and condemning the IOM’s recommendation that HHS include FDA-approved contraceptive services among “preventive services for women” to be covered under all insurance plans, without co-pay. AUL’s central argument against these recommendations is that they include coverage of emergency contraception such as Plan B and ella, which can “kill a humans embryo even after implantation” and are therefore “abortion-inducing.”

Despite these attitudes toward contraception promoted by anti-abortion rights groups and religious organizations, current data suggests that women with religious convictions do use contraception.

A recent report produced by the Guttmacher Institute, revealed that about 99 percent of “all women who have had sex” have used a contraceptive method other than natural family planning. Among “sexually experienced Catholic women,” that number is 98 percent. Additionally, 69 percent of sexually active women of all denominations are using a contraceptive method other than natural family planning.

The study’s findings led Guttmacher to conclude: “Policies that make contraceptives more affordable and easier to use are not just sound public health policy – they also reflect the needs and desires of the vast majority of American women and their partners, regardless of their religious affiliation.”