A new American Academy of Pediatrics policy backing long-acting contraceptives is getting a boost from a new study on their efficacy in teens. Though less than 5% of teenagers use IUDs or hormonal implants, 72% of 1,404 female participants—aged 14 to 19, including some who previously had unintended pregnancies—chose to use long-acting forms of birth control when advised of the effectiveness of their various contraceptive options. All methods were offered free of charge. What happened: pregnancy and abortion rates nosedived. The annual pregnancy and abortion rates for those in the study was 34 per 1,000 and 9.7 per 1,000, respectively. The rates for sexually experienced teens, which the New York Times describes as "the group most comparable to those in the study," were 158.5 per 1,000 and 41.5 per 1,000.
"I think we thought we would see really low pregnancy and abortion rates, but this is startling," the lead author of the study, published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine, tells NPR. Further, though minority teens typically have higher pregnancy rates, the rates for white and black teens in the study were nearly the same, indicating that with good information and good access to free or affordable birth control, the racial difference could be minimized. But there are plenty of hurdles to expanding the usage of IUDs and implants. Among them: fears that pushing them would encourage sexual activity; the large number of pediatricians who haven't trained in how to insert them; and apprehension about the pain of the insertion or the aftermath (bleeding may persist for a few months). And as one Boston pediatrician tells the Times, some teens are "freaked out by the idea of an implanted device in their body." (Read more contraceptive stories.)