The voices of Urban Institute's researchers and staff
December 20, 2017

Women want effective birth control

Access to birth control is critical to women’s reproductive health, and more than 8 in 10 women say birth control has a positive effect on women’s lives. Birth control prevents unplanned pregnancies and unplanned births and has broad health, social, and economic benefits for women and their families

But access to birth control may be at risk. The administration has issued new regulations allowing employers to claim religious or moral objections to offering no-cost birth control, which, if upheld, could increase financial barriers to birth control for employees. The administration further cut funding for the Teenage Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) Program and proposed reallocating Title X family planning funding to new fertility awareness programs for adolescents, a shift away from evidence-based practices.

Reduced funding for the program would jeopardize access for the more than 6 million women who used Title X or other publicly funded clinics in 2015. These clinics provide women free or low-cost access to effective, and often costly, birth control methods, such as intrauterine devices (IUDs), implants, and the shot, pill, ring, and patch. Without no-cost coverage or public funding, women may not be able to afford effective birth control methods.

The administration has also taken steps that could reduce women’s access to affordable health insurance. Women who lose health insurance coverage are likely to experience greater barriers to accessing birth control, particularly if public funding for family planning is also cut. So far, the administration has cut advertising for the Affordable Care Act open enrollment period by 90 percent, ended cost-sharing reduction payments, drafted an executive order that would weaken the individual mandate if it is not repealed by Congress in the tax bill, and laid the groundwork for changes in Medicaid that could restrict eligibility and coverage.

As federal policymakers make decisions that affect women’s access to birth control, it is important to consider women’s perspectives. We surveyed 1,990 adult women of reproductive age (ages 18 to 44) in 2016 to learn what women want from their birth control and the role it plays in their lives.

More than 8 in 10 women say birth control has a positive effect on women’s lives

When asked about the effects access to birth control has on women’s lives, 63 percent of women agreed that birth control reduces stress.

women agree with positive statements about the effects of birth control

About half of women agreed that birth control has health benefits for women, helps women keep working, helps women get an education, and leads to more stable relationships. Only 1 in 10 women think birth control is morally wrong, and less than one-third report that birth control encourages risky behavior.  

Women say a birth control method’s effectiveness is most important

When asked what characteristics are important when they consider what birth control method to use, more than 83 percent of sexually active birth control users reported that it is extremely important that their birth control method be very effective at preventing pregnancy.

women say it's extremely important that their birth control is effective at preventing pregnancy

 This was by far the most important factor to women, but more than half of women also consider it extremely important that their method be effective at preventing HIV or sexually transmitted diseases, be easy to use, not have bad side effects, and not hurt. Between 40 and 50 percent said it was extremely important that it be easy to get, have a low cost, and not interrupt sex.

Women consider some birth control methods to be more effective than others

When asked about the effectiveness of different birth control methods, nearly 8 in 10 women reported that sterilization is very effective at preventing pregnancy, but women were less likely to consider other methods to be very effective. Intrauterine devices were considered the second-most-effective method, with 48 percent of women reporting that it is very effective at preventing pregnancy. Between 23 and 43 percent of women reported the shot, pill, implant, patch, and ring to be very effective. Only 6 percent of women viewed the rhythm method, or natural family planning, as very effective at preventing pregnancy.

Many women were unfamiliar with the two long-acting reversible contraceptive methods—IUDs and implants—and women familiar with them underestimated their effectiveness. Greater knowledge gaps were found for implants than for IUDs. 

The administration’s proposals do not align with women’s priorities for obtaining effective birth control

Women believe access to birth control has positive effects on women’s lives and that access to very effective methods—including sterilization, IUDs, implants, the shot, and the pill—is important.

Yet, recent and proposed federal policies may increase financial barriers to birth control and shift funding away from effective, and often costly, methods. Such changes are likely to reduce women’s access to very effective contraceptive methods and do not align with women’s priorities for their reproductive health.

Photo by Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.


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