Recent statistics show that more than half of women seeking abortions in Britain last year were using at least one form of contraception.
The statistics were based on 60,592 women who had abortions at clinics operated by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), the country’s largest abortion provider.
The BPAS report notes that 51.2 percent of women who sought abortions in 2016 were using at least one form of contraception, and that a quarter of these women were using methods considered to be the “most effective” forms, such as hormonal birth control pills and long-acting methods such as implants or IUDs.
Typically, methods of abortion such as the IUD which is touted as being as high as 98-99 percent effective. However, this is with so-called “perfect use” and doesn’t account for human error, such as imperfect implantation methods.
“While it is true that failure rates for LARCs (long-acting reversible contraceptives) are extremely low, they are not non-existent. Unplanned pregnancies can also occur in the event that the method was not correctly inserted, moves or falls out,” the report noted.
Similarly, hormonal contraceptives are said to have a 99 percent rate of effectiveness with perfect use, but have closer to a 92 percent rate of effectiveness when accounting for human error, such as missing a dose or not taking the pill at consistent times.
While one of the more popular arguments for the use of contraceptives is that they may decrease abortion rates, these statistics appear to support arguments of pro-life activists who have said that contraception drives the need for abortion by creating a false sense that pregnancy is no longer a possible consequence of sexual intercourse.
Abby Johnson is a former Planned Parenthood director who now runs “And Then There Were None,” an organization dedicated to helping abortion workers leave their jobs.
She responded to the study in a statement, recalling her own experience of women who came to Planned Parenthood seeking abortions after their contraception had failed.
“I’ve seen many women have two, three, four abortions because their contraception failed,” she said.
“Contraception isn’t a magic pill to stop pregnancy and abortion...There are plenty of holistic methods to avoid (or achieve) pregnancy that respect women’s bodies and don’t throw money at abortion facilities like Planned Parenthood,” she said.
As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops notes in a fact sheet about contraception and abortion rates, several studies show that increased contraception use generally does not lower abortion rates for two reasons: contraception failure, and risk compensation.
Those who are taking contraceptives (particularly teenagers) are more likely to engage in earlier and riskier sexual behavior, because they believe they are protected by contraception.
Ann Furedi, BPAS Chief Executive, also noted this false sense of security in her comments on the report, though she said that this was an argument for keeping abortion as a back-up method of birth control.
“When you encourage women to use contraception, you give them the sense that they can control their fertility...Our data shows women cannot control their fertility through contraception alone, even when they are using some of the most effective methods. Family planning is contraception and abortion. Abortion is birth control that women need when their regular method lets them down.”
Johnson noted that it is misleading to call abortion a method of contraception, because at that point it is not a method of avoiding pregnancy but rather of ending a human life.
“The majority of women who came to Planned Parenthood for abortions were ones who used some sort of contraception. Abortion is used as a method of contraception itself — except that it’s no longer contraception at that point, it’s ending the life of a child already conceived,” she said.
Furthermore, the BPAS report also notes that women using hormonal or LARC contraception methods are more likely to seek late-term abortions (after 20 weeks), because they are unable to detect pregnancies at earlier gestations due to the contraceptives.
Such late-term abortions are an even more contentious issue within the abortion debate.
Several states in the U.S. ban abortions after 20 weeks, at which point several studies indicate that the fetus can feel pain. Twenty-three states ban abortions after the point of “viability outside of the womb” - the point at which a baby is likely to survive if it were born, which is generally around 24-28 weeks of gestation.
The U.K. restricts abortions after 24 weeks, though makes exceptions in cases where the mother’s life may be at risk or the baby would be born with a “severe disability.”
“Hormonal contraception can cause side effects which may mask the symptoms of pregnancy, including suppressing menstrual bleeding completely, or causing irregular or light periods. Women using a method of contraception may also not identify their pregnancy at an earlier stage because they, unlike those not using any method of contraception, had not anticipated falling pregnant,” the report notes.
“Bpas data from 2015 shows that women who had abortions at later gestations were more likely to have been using LARCs than those ending a pregnancy at an earlier stage, with 5.3% of those having at abortion at 20+ weeks reporting using a LARC compared to 3.4% of those between 0-19 weeks of pregnancy,” it adds.
Ultimately, Johnson said, women deserve better than what contraception and abortion can offer them.
“Women deserve better than faulty contraception, the heartbreak of abortion, and the bodily harm caused by these drugs.”