The number of U.S. women opting for long-term reversible methods of birth control — a category of highly effective contraceptives that includes intrauterine devices (IUDs) and hormonal implants — is steadily rising, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These methods are gaining ground among Americans despite political controversy stoked by religious conservatives, who assert they’re comparable to abortion.
For decades, the most common contraception method has been the birth control pill. About 16 percent of sexually active women opted for the pill between 2011 and 2013 , according to the CDC’s latest report. Long-acting birth control, meanwhile, has historically been one of the least popular methods even though it’s actually the most effective reversible option.
But the CDC report suggests that may be slowly changing. When comparing the data from 2006–10 to the new numbers from 2011–13, the rate of women choosing IUDs and implants nearly doubled — jumping from 3.8 percent to 7.2 percent.
Previous studies have found similar gradual upticks in the number of women opting for long-term contraception, a trend that reflects the medical community’s evolving position toward this type of birth control. Particularly when it comes to IUDs, the past several years have brought about the beginning of a “paradigm shift” in family planning providers’ approach.
Doctors used to avoid prescribing IUDs to young women who hadn’t yet given birth, assuming that they would be too hard to insert or that younger patients wouldn’t want to stick with the method. And some medical professionals have been reluctant to give long-term contraceptives to unmarried women, reflecting somewhat of a discomfort with female sexuality outside of serious relationships.
But, as the best practices evolve in the medical community, more providers are opening conversations about long-term contraception with their patients. The latest research in the field has repeatedly confirmed that IUDs are safe for younger women. One recent study even found that, when presented with all the options, teenage girls are 16 times more likely to choose an IUD for themselves than any other method. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology and the American Academy of Pediatrics now encourage doctors to give IUDs to their teenage patients.
Plus, recent policy changes have made IUDs more accessible for millions of women across the U.S. Thanks to Obamacare’s birth control benefit, which eliminates out-of-pocket costs for FDA-approved contraception, women no longer have to pay hundreds of dollars upfront to insert an IUD.
According to research from the Guttmacher Institute, removing the cost barriers to birth control helps significantly increase the number of women who choose to use the most effective methods — so we may eventually find that the rate of IUD use continued to rise even further in 2014 and 2015.
Even though IUDs have recently been hailed as the “best birth control” out there, the method is not without its controversy. Right-wing religious groups claim that IUDs are a form of abortion, even though there’s no scientific evidence to back that up. The evangelical family who owns craft chain Hobby Lobby believes that being required to cover the cost of IUDs for their workers violates their opposition to abortion, an argument that the Supreme Court sided with earlier this year.