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Opinion, Comment & Reviews

New study of contraceptive use
By Ellie Lee

Last week BPAS released the results of its study looking at contraceptive use. The study was commissioned by the Department of Health, and involved a survey of 2140 women who presented themselves at BPAS clinics in June this year. It was found that:

  • 55 per cent of women requesting an abortion were married or in ongoing relationships.
  • 86 per cent said they usually used a method of contraception even if they had not when they became pregnant.
  • Almost 60 per cent of women requesting abortion claim to have been using a method of contraception at the time they became pregnant.
  • 38 per cent said they had been using a condom at the time they became pregnant.
  • 17 per cent had relied on the contraceptive pill.
  • 41 per cent said they had used no method of contraception.
  • 45 per cent of those 17 an under said they had not been using contraception when they became pregnant.
  • 45 per cent of those aged 30-34 also said they had not been using contraception.
The report on the research from BPAS cited factors that can render contraceptives less than 100 per cent effective, such as forgetting to take the Pill, or failing to realise that its effects can be undermined by antibiotics or illness. Condoms can tear, or, even if their was use was intended, be forgotten.

The conclusion drawn by BPAS was that abortion services are essential if women are to be able to plan their families. Ann Furedi, director of communications for BPAS was reported as saying: 'It is hugely important to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies but we have to accept that abortion is a fact of life for many women.' She also said 'Even someone who has access to contraception and who knows about it may not always be able to use it as well as they would like to'. She added ' A multitude of things can go wrong. Women can forget to take the Pill, condoms can slip off, break, not be put on effectively or not even taken out of the packet.'

Unsurprisingly, anti-choice groups responded negatively to the findings. Angela Corless, of Life, said BPAS was '..arguing for abortion to be used as another form of contraception. This is not a solution to the problem which devastates millions of women's lives.' Paul Tully, general secretary of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children said it was impossible to de-stigmatise abortion because it involved the killing of an unborn child. He said: 'Choosing abortion is nearly always described by the women who do so as something which they feel is not what they want. Very often it is chosen as a last resort because the women is under enormous pressure, whether that be social, financial or personal.' Mr Tully said that instead of promoting abortion, women should be given help and advice to enable them to feel confident about motherhood. He also called for education programmes that emphasised the benefits of chastity among the young, rather than the contraceptive choices open to teenagers.

Most of us understand however that, be they teenagers or in their 20s and 30s, women are not going to stop having and enjoying sex. The results of this research show that if we accept this is the case, better funding for abortion services is needed. The message must be that contraceptive misuse or nonuse is common, that unplanned pregnancy can result, and that abortion should therefore be easily available, and free, for all women who want it.

The Daily Telegraph, 13/10/99.
The Independent, 13/10/99.
BBC News On-line, 13/10/99.
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