Does contraception really reduce the number of abortions ? Experts’ answer

Publié le 4 Oct, 2016

September 26th is the « World Contraception Day”. For the occasion, Claire de La Hougue and Grégor Puppinck bring forward the paradox of contraception, according to which the number of abortions increases proportionally to the level of contraception [1]. They took part in the writing of the book “Droit et prévention de l’avortement en Europe” (Law and prevention of abortion in Europe), Editions LEH, coming out this week.


Contraception should enable one to avoid unwanted pregnancies and, therefore, abortions”. This argument, used by the governments to support their various ideas since the Neuwirth and Veil laws, is not confirmed by the statistics which, on the contrary, reveal a correlation that is proportional between the level of contraception and of abortions.


While the states in which contraception is widely used are still performing a high level of abortions, others where contraception is less trivialized have manage to contain and even reduce the number of abortions.


Among the Western European countries which have the highest level of contraceptive coverage (over 70% of women in age of having a child), one can find France and the Scandinavian countries, the record being held by the United Kingdom which is over 80%.


However, in France, not only is the number of abortions not decreasing, but it has a tendency to increase: according to the INED, it went from 206 000 in 2003 to more than 216 000 in 2013. Over this same period, the number of abortions, i.e., the number of abortions for 1000 women of childbearing age, went from 14.2% to 15.3%, and even to more than 18% in the Ile-de-France region.


The same goes for Sweden where the number of abortions keeps increasing, going from 17,2% to 20.2% between 1983 and 2014, and even reaching 29.6% for 20-24 year old women. The United Kingdom also has a high number and rate of abortions (over 16% in total and 28.7% at 21 years old), and 38% of repeated abortions.


By contrast, countries in which contraception is less popular, have a low level of abortion and it is still decreasing. Thus, the rate of abortions in Italy is one of the lowest in Europe: it was reduced by more than half between 1982 and 2013, the number of abortions going from 234 801 per year to 102644 per year.


There is thus a correlation between the level of contraception and abortions. It can be explained by the fact that most women who ask for abortion were taking contraception when they got pregnant. In France, The General Inspectorate of Social Affairs observed in 2010 that “72% of abortions were carried out on women who were using contraception, and in 42% of cases, this contraception was based on a medical method, theoretically very effective (pill or IUD)”. The numbers are similar in the United Kingdom.


It thus appears that the development of contraception does not allow one to reduce abortion below the proportional limit of the level of contraceptive failure. Though there are indeed less unwanted pregnancies proportionally to the number of sexual intercourses thanks to contraception, the number of unexpected pregnancies remains high and constitutes one third of pregnancies, although in 4 cases out of 10, the women were using a contraceptive with a strong theoretical efficiency. Among these “unexpected” pregnancies, a greater proportion are terminated by abortion: 4 out of 10 in 1975, against 6 out of 10 today, which explains why the number of abortions has remained high. The heavy use of contraception thus increases risk behaviour. The fact of becoming parent is excluded on a psychological level but not on a biological one, and leads to abortion.


The massive use of contraception, as any other technology, gives out the illusion of control over nature and power over how to avoid the natural consequences of sexual intercourse. Based on that, sexual education at school is ill-adapted when it starts reducing the sense of responsibility to the use of contraception and a condomTeaching someone that responsible sexuality mainly consists in using technical means that allows one to avoid having to assume the natural consequences of one’s acts is a way of educating people into becoming irresponsible.


This « paradox of contraception » is also an explanation of why abortion is increasing, in particular for young women who actually need to be educated to be responsible. The examples found in other European countries shows that it is possible.



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