Contraception, sex counseling hard to get in certain states

By Iris Kuo KRT

WASHINGTON – Abortions are not falling as fast as they might because sex counseling and contraception are hard to get in some states, a leading national abortion rights group said last week.

As a result, although teen pregnancy and abortion rates have declined sharply, the overall U.S. abortion rate dropped just 1 percent a year in 2001 and 2002, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which prepared the state-by-state analysis of contraception availability.

Guttmacher’s president and CEO, Sharon Camp, warned that obstacles to contraception at the state level could derail efforts, dating from the Clinton administration, to cut the rate of unintended pregnancies by 40 percent by 2010.

California came in first in Guttmacher’s rankings, which are based on ease of access to contraception, state funding for sex counseling and support from state legislatures. Alaska came in second in the Guttmacher review of 50 states and the District of Columbia; South Carolina was third.

“We need to be making contraception easy for women, but in many states we’re actually making it harder,” said Camp. “When effective contraceptive use rises, abortion rates go down.”

Of 6 million U.S. pregnancies each year, about 3 million are unplanned, according to the group, and half of those end in abortions. According to Guttmacher, the U.S. unintended pregnancy and abortion rates are the highest among industrialized nations.

The Guttmacher Institute is pushing for more public funding, insurance coverage that includes contraceptives and improved availability of contraceptives and family planning counseling.

Anti-abortion and abortion rights groups sometimes find common ground when they advocate reductions in abortion, and they often agree that making contraceptives available helps to achieve that goal. At least one anti-abortion group balked last week, however, at Guttmacher’s linkage between the availability of contraception and unintended pregnancies.

“Handing out birth control and giving out tax dollars to [family planning] programs have not resulted in fewer abortions and fewer unintended pregnancies,” said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America. Rather, she said, promoting contraception encourages sex outside of marriage.

“If you subsidize an activity you get more of it,” Wright said. “It’s encouraging the behavior that leads to more clients for abortion clinics.”

Wright’s group wants more parental involvement in sex education and contraception decisions. It opposes allowing minors to get contraceptives without parental consent, which Guttmacher’s study used as a standard for good state policy.