Data examines impact of contraception on Southeast Tennessee

FILE - In this Aug. 26, 2016, file photo, a one-month dosage of hormonal birth control pills is displayed in Sacramento, Calif. The Trump administration’s new birth control rule is raising questions among some doctors and researchers. They say it overlooks known benefits of contraception while selectively citing data that raise doubts about effectiveness and safety. Recently issued rules allow more employers to opt out of covering birth control as a preventive benefit for women under former President Barack Obama’s health care law.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

Contraception could save Southeast Tennessee $53 million a year in public money, according to data from the Guttmacher Institute that was discussed Thursday during a Contraception Matters event at the Bessie Smith Cultural Center.

The data came from a figure that found in 2010 the federal and state government together spent an average of $416 on unintended pregnancies for every woman in Tennessee age 15 to 44.

Thursday's event was hosted by A Step Ahead Chattanooga, a prevention-only organization that provides information about all methods of birth control as well as free access to long-term reversible methods, such as implants and intrauterine devices, commonly called IUDS, to women in 11 Tennessee counties.

Regina Rutledge, a subject matter expert and researcher at RTI International, discussed the economic impact on individuals, families and communities when women can time their pregnancies.

Birth control pills are the most popular contraceptives in the United States, and although they are effective if used perfectly - taken at the same time every day - nine out of 100 women a year who use the pill will become pregnant from user error. Long-acting reversible contraceptives, such as implants and IUDs, are highly effective, but expensive and require a trained provider to insert and remove.

While pregnancy prevention methods such as condoms and the pill are often favored because they're readily available and have a low up-front cost, in the long run, long-acting, reversible contraception is actually more cost effective, Rutledge said.

"When a women wants to initiate an IUD or implant, it might be more expensive. However, when we look at use over a longer period of time, the costs go down dramatically to her, her family, her insurer and the community," she said.

Despite progress in contraceptive access and positive statistics, such as a steady decline in teen pregnancy rates, Rutledge said, advances are not felt equally throughout the community.

"Women without insurance, living in rural communities, without a high school education or living in poverty all face additional barriers when they're accessing the contraceptive method of their choice," she said, adding that Southeast Tennessee is considered a "contraception desert," meaning birth control can be difficult or impossible to obtain due to limited providers and a lack of public transportation, particularly in rural counties.

A Step Ahead Chattanooga works to overcome some of these barriers, and it has provided free long-term reversible contraceptives to nearly 2,000 women throughout the region since the organization began five years ago.

Kristina Montague, event co-host and managing partner of the JumpFund, which invests in women-led companies, emphasized the thread between women's health and economic well-being.

"Part of the strength of our community is the health and wellness of all of our members," Montague said. "We should all have the ability to not only decide when we want to have a family but how we want to contribute to our own and our family's economic well-being. Access to and knowledge about contraceptive options gives a woman the freedom to determine her educational path, her career plan or even start her own business."

Contact staff writer Elizabeth Fite at or 423-757-6673.