The power of free birth control

More proof from St. Louis that free birth control can be a very, very good thing.

UPDATE: President Biden has opened the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act health insurance plans for 2022. You can now enroll in one of these plans until January 15, 2022, at Some states have their own open enrollment periods and websites for signing up. Check to see if your state does. We also have more information about how to get insurance and learn what kinds of plans to watch out for.

“Free birth control” is making headlines once again. The phrase has been thrown around a lot recently—inaccurately—in reference to a provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to include birth control without co-pays as a preventive service for people with insurance. In fact, this provision of the ACA doesn’t make birth control “free” at all, since the folks who benefit are already paying for their health insurance plan. The subject of the latest headlines, on the other hand? That’s free birth control.

And the results?

We’ve written before about Washington University’s Contraceptive CHOICE Project, which provided 9,256 women in the St. Louis area with free birth control counseling and access to the full range of methods. We already knew that participants were much more likely than the general public to choose a super-effective long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) method like the IUD or the implant. We also knew that participants using the pill, the patch, or the ring were 20 times more likely to have an unintended pregnancy than participants using the IUD, the implant, or the shot. About one in 11 pill, patch, and ring users got accidentally pregnant during the study; fewer than 1 in 100 IUD and implant users got pregnant during that time.*

Now the folks behind the CHOICE Project have released a video sharing even more amazing results. We recommend checking out the video for yourself (it’s an easy-to-watch 4:17 minutes), but we’ll share a few highlights to whet your appetite.

  • The CHOICE Project affected unplanned pregnancy rates. Among CHOICE participants 35 in 1,000 women had an unplanned pregnancy within a year, compared to the national rate of 52 in 1,000 women.

  • The CHOICE Project majorly affected abortion rates. Only 6 in 1,000 CHOICE participants had an abortion, compared to the national rate of 20 in 1,000 women.

  • Education’s half the battle. Toward the end, the video notes that making LARC methods more affordable is one part of the solution—many women don’t even know about these methods, or don’t think they’re an option for them.

Just when we thought the CHOICE folks couldn’t get any dreamier, they go and sweet-talk us about the value of birth control education. This is love.

*Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly reported the failure rates for the birth control methods tracked in the study. We fixed the error and apologize for any confusion.