Conference Coverage

Dr. Eve Espey: Some good news in her 2019 contraceptive update



– There’s some good news on the contraception and reproductive health front, according to a recent update from Eve Espey, MD.

Dr. Eve Espey, professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, Division of Family Planning at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque Sharon Worcester/MDedge News

Dr. Eve Espey

The unintended pregnancy rate in the United States, including among adolescents and young women, is declining, and the U.S. abortion rate is at its lowest level since Roe v. Wade, she said at the annual clinical and scientific meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

A 2016 article based on 2008-2011 data showed that after hovering around 50% for nearly 3 decades, the unintended pregnancy rate dropped “for the first time in a very long period of time,” said Dr. Espey, professor and chair of the department of obstetrics & gynecology, division of family planning at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque (N Engl J Med. 2016; 374[9]:843-52).

“It doesn’t look that impressive – it basically went down to 45%, but considering the scope and the number of women who are affected by unplanned pregnancy, this is actually a huge public health achievement,” she said. “And I think ... in the next cycles of the [Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s] National Survey of Family Growth ... we’ll hopefully continue to see this and potentially more [decline].”

As for abortion rates, an increase occurred following Roe v. Wade, but rates are now down to pre-Roe levels.

“One of the things that we know about the abortion rate is that the most important determinant ... is access to contraceptives,” Dr. Espey said, noting that both the abortion and unintended pregnancy rate declines are attributable to better and more consistent use of contraceptives, increased abstinence as teens are waiting longer to have sex, and the “meteoric rise in long-acting reversible contraceptive (LARC) use.”

Importantly, while improvements in public health have traditionally only impacted upper-class white women, a reduction is finally occurring in disparities with women of color, but those disparities still remain,” she added. “Just like we’re focusing so much on this relative to maternal mortality, the same kinds of disparities occur in access to reproductive health.”

Dr. Espey also provided updates on other aspects of contraception.

IUDs and other LARC methods

The use of LARCs increased from 2% of contraceptive types used by reproductive-aged women in 2002 to 12% in 2012. The majority of that change was in IUD use, with a small increase in implant use, she said, noting that the latest data from the 2015-2017 cycle of the National Survey of Family Growth shows that the rate is now up to 16%.

“The rise has been nothing that I ever imagined that I would see, certainly in my professional career,” she said.

The huge impact of LARCs on the unintended pregnancy rate is attributable to consistent effectiveness over time, compared with an increasing failure rate over time with short-acting contraceptive methods, she said, explaining that while the failure rate with oral contraceptives is about 8%-9% over the first 3 years, it increases to 53% at 8 years.

It’s a matter of looking at both “typical use” effectiveness and continuation rates: LARCs have continuation rates of about 75%-85%; Depot-Provera, for example, has a 25%-30% continuation rate at 1 year, she noted.

Dr. Espey also attributed the gains to improved access via the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, which has been shown in numerous studies to have improved access and consistency of contraceptive use, but which is “currently being chipped away,” and to the federal Title X program that covers family planning care for low income women, including undocumented women.

“These two programs have made a huge impact for us, and I hope that we as ob.gyns. will continue to support them,” she said.


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