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Unintended pregnancies in SC drops over 40 percent, higher reduction for young women

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Patti Porter, a nurse practitioner with Fetter Health Care, explains the birth control options offered through Choose Well, which supplies health clinics with long-acting contraceptives like the IUD, at the network's main office in Charleston. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

New data from The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control shows unintended pregnancies in South Carolina dropped over 40 percent from 2017-2020.

For women between the ages of 20 and 29 the number is even higher, seeing a 59 percent decrease. 

One initiative, Choose Well SC, a contraceptive access initiative of the New Morning Foundation that began in 2017, is taking considerable credit for the state's reduction in unintended pregnancies and births.

But officials from the state health agency said the initiative is not the only contributor to the sizable decrease. 

"There are so many different reasons that can play into this and so it's hard to either blame or give credit to any one thing in these types of situations," said Dr. Brannon Traxler, public health director of the state health agency. "It really is a combination of factors."

These factors include those without access to birth control, those who don't want to use birth control and those who aren't using it correctly. 

New Morning's program is imbedded in over 100 clinics across the state, providing contraceptive services to nearly 375,000 women since 2017. 

"The program has enabled community health centers, rural health practices and other clinics to purchase and offer high-quality birth control services for the first time," New Morning said in a recent press release. 

Bonnie Kapp, leader at the New Morning initiative, said much of their success — including averting over 70,000 unwanted or mistimed pregnancies — comes from New Morning's ability to integrate patient screenings and counseling into their partner clinics. 

For example if a patient presents at one of their clinics for a flu shot, Kapp said clinics ask the "essential question." 

"While you're here, do you intend to become pregnant within the next 12 to 18 months or the foreseeable future," Kapp told The Post and Courier, repeating the words women across the state hear from practitioners every day. 

Kapp said if a woman wants to avoid pregnancy, the clinic then offers counseling to give them their options and help them decide whether they want to pursue one of the eight contraceptive offerings New Morning provides. 

"Our program is sensitive to non-coercion," Kapp said. "We don't need women to feel like they're being judged or coerced into a (birth control) method."

Samone Howard was a student at Sumter High School when she first became interested in learning about different birth control methods. 

Howard said sexual education at her school was lacking and she didn't have many informative conversations on the topic at home. 

Then she saw one of Choose Well's billboard ads, advertising free birth control. She called the number, NODRAMA, and within a month, the 18-year-old was able to go in and speak with a community health worker about different birth control options. 

Howard grew up in what she called a "Bible Belt" town and was nervous about speaking with family and even health practitioners about her need for contraceptives. 

"I went in expecting to have to defend myself and my choices, and they didn't even think twice about helping me and giving me what I need," Howard said in a testimonial for the Choose Well initiative. 

Traxler said the biggest drop in unintended pregnancies occurred in 2020. 

And as South Carolina law makers recently passed a new law in May 2022 to increase access to birth control pills by allowing pharmacists to dispense them without a doctor's prescription, an even bigger reduction in unintended pregnancies could be on the horizon. 

Regulations for the law, including final approval from state regulatory boards, The Board of Medical Examiners and the Board of Pharmacy, were finalized earlier this month. 

Traxler said it would be hard to predict how large of a decrease this new law could cause but remained hopeful that it would affect women statewide. 

"Any way we can increase access to birth control, we can expect to see a decrease in unintended pregnancies," Traxler said. 

The New Morning Foundation also received over $1.8 million through a recent appropriation from state lawmakers. 

Kapp said 90 percent of those funds will be immediately passed out to the programs at 141 partner clinics for medical supplies and family planning supplies for women who require subsidies. 

"We are grateful for it," Kapp said, "but the budget exceeds that and so we are fundraising around the state."

Kapp said New Morning is currently projecting to exceed $3 million for the cost of birth control methods for uninsured and underinsured low income women in the state. 

Currently, Howard is a public health major at The University of South Carolina. 

"I definitely want to work with women and contraceptives, especially in sexual education because of my school's sex-ed program," Howard said. "It's a really important topic for me."

For more information on where to find a clinic near you, visit www.nodrama.org/ or dial **NODRAMA on your mobile phone. 

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story identified Dr. Brannon Traxler as the director of the state health agency. This has been updated. 

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 Follow Zharia Jeffries on Twitter @Zharia_Jeffries.

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