When women are given access to birth control at no cost, the rate of unintended pregnancies and abortions among them drops dramatically, according to a new study published on Thursday in Obstetrics & Gynecology.

The Contraceptive Choice Project, conducted by researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Mo., enrolled 9,256 women and teens from 14 to 45 years of age in the St. Louis area between 2007 and 2011. The participants were all uninsured, low-income, or otherwise determined to be at risk for unintended pregnancy.

Each woman was given a choice of birth control methods, ranging from long-term and more expensive contraceptive devices, such as the intrauterine device (IUD) or an implant, to more common methods, including birth control pills, the ring and the patch. Since price wasn't an issue, about 75 percent of participants chose the implanted methods, which are more effective than short-term methods.

The results were significant: The annual birth rate among teenage girls in the study from 2008 to 2010 was only 6.3 per 1,000, compared to the much higher U.S. rate of 34.3 per 1,000 for girls the same age. And the abortion rates among among all participants ranged from 4.4 to 7.5 per 1,000 women over the two-year period, substantially lower than the national rate of 19.6 abortions per 1,000 women in 2008.

The rate of abortions in the study was even dramatically lower than the rates in the St. Louis area, which range from 13.4 to 17 per 1,000 women.

"The impact of providing no-cost birth control was far greater than we expected in terms of unintended pregnancies," said Jeff Peipert, MD, PhD, the Robert J. Terry Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and lead author of the study. "We think improving access to birth control, particularly IUDs and implants, coupled with education on the most effective methods has the potential to significantly decrease the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions in this country."

The findings of the study are significant at a time when a number of conservatives in politics and public policy are pushing back against the Obama administration's contraception mandate under the Affordable Care Act, which requires most employers and insurers to cover birth control at no cost to women. Moreover, a number of states have voted to defund Planned Parenthood -- one of the nation's leading providers of contraception to low-income and uninsured women -- because some of the organization's clinics also offer abortions.

"I would think if you were against abortions, you would be 100 percent for contraception access," Dr. James T. Breeden, president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said of the results.

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  • 99 Problems (JAY-Z)

    Eric Fehrnstrom, senior campaign adviser for Mitt Romney, <a href="http://thinkprogress.org/politics/2012/06/03/494238/fehrnstrom-shiny-objects-women/" target="_hplink">said on Sunday</a> that issues pertaining to women's reproductive rights, such as abortion and birth control, were "shiny objects" meant to distract voters from the real issues. "Mitt Romney is pro-life," he told ABC's George Stephanopoulos. "He'll govern as a pro-life president, but you're going to see the Democrats use all sorts of shiny objects to distract people's attention from the Obama performance on the economy. This is not a social issue election."

  • Talk (Coldplay)

    The Senate will vote Thursday on the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would expand and strengthen the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and make it illegal for employers to punish women for bringing up pay disparity issues. Dana Perino, a Fox News contributor and former press secretary for President George W. Bush, <a href="http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/04/30/perino-equal-pay-issue-is-a-distraction-for-just-48-hours/" target="_hplink">called the equal pay issue</a> "a distraction" from the country's real financial problems last week. "Well, it's just yet another distraction of dealing with the major financial issues that the country should be dealing with," Perino said. "This is not a job creator."

  • Just My Imagination (The Temptations)

    Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), whose home state's legislature recently defunded Planned Parenthood and voted to pass a bill that would allow employers to deny women birth control coverage, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/26/john-mccain-war-on-women_n_1455591.html" target="_hplink">delivered a floor speech</a> in which he insisted that the war on women is something imaginary for Democrats to "sputter about." "My friends, this supposed 'War on Women' or the use of similarly outlandish rhetoric by partisan operatives has two purposes, and both are purely political in their purpose and effect: The first is to distract citizens from real issues that really matter and the second is to give talking heads something to sputter about when they appear on cable television," he said.

  • Butterfly Fly Away (Miley & Billy Ray Cyrus)

    Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus tried to trivialize concerns about the legislative "war on women" by comparing it to a "war on caterpillars." "If the Democrats said we had a war on caterpillars and every mainstream media outlet talked about the fact that Republicans have a war on caterpillars, then we'd have problems with caterpillars," Priebus <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-04-05/priebus-says-gender-battle-as-fictonal-as-caterpillar-war.html" target="_hplink">said in an April interview</a> on Bloomberg Television. "It's a fiction."

  • Distraction (Angels And Airwaves)

    Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Sarah Steelman (R) took heat from her opponents in May when she contended that Democratic lawmakers' focus on the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act was "a distraction" from the issues they should be dealing with instead. "I think it's unfortunate that the Democrats have made a political football out of this thing, which I think is what they keep doing to distract from real problems that are facing our nation," she said in an interview with St. Louis Public Radio.

  • We Don't Care (Kanye West)

    South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (R) defended the Republican Party in April for going after insurance coverage for contraception by arguing that women don't actually care about contraception. "Women don't care about contraception," she said on ABC's The View. "They care about jobs and the economy and raising their families and all those other things."