Teenage birth control and its unfortunate consequences

Carolyn Moynihan
9 Feb 2011
Reproduced with Permission

A decade ago public health experts and frontline health professionals convinced the UK government that easy (free, over the counter) access to the morning after pill would bring down the country's record rates of teenage pregnancy. It hasn't, but it has helped to increase sexually transmitted infections among teens.

Those are the findings of two economists at the University of Nottingham University Business School, published in the Journal of Health Economics recently. Professors David Paton and Sourafel Girma used data from the Office of National Statistics and the Health Protection Agency for the years 1998 to 2004 to test the assumptions of the government's Teenage Pregnancy Strategy -- in particular, pharmacy "emergency birth control" (EBC) schemes. The results of the study?

It found that the EBC schemes had no effect in reducing teenage conception rates and even some evidence that pointed to a small increase in the number of pregnancies.

The presence of an EBC scheme in a local health authority was linked to a five per cent increase in STIs in the under-18 age group and a 12 per cent hike in under-16s.

And the researchers warn that the STI figures are only for those diagnosed at clinics, rather than the total number of infections, which in some cases can be asymptomatic. Professor Paton notes the sad, but by now familiar truth:

"Our study illustrates how government interventions can sometimes lead to unfortunate unintended consequences. The fact that STI diagnoses increased in areas with EBC schemes will raise questions over whether these schemes represent the best use of public money."

"Unfortunate unintended consequences" will, of course, undermine any scheme that takes teenage sexual activity for granted and cares nothing for the moral and psychological damage it is doing young people even before the social cost is counted.

Thanks to Family First New Zealand for this tip.