(HealthDay News) — Giving teenage girls free birth control – especially long-acting implanted devices – could slash pregnancy and abortion rates to well below the current U.S. average, researchers report in the October 2 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

In a study of 1,404 teenage girls, researchers found that counseling and free contraceptives substantially cut the girls’ rates of unplanned pregnancy and abortion. Over three years, their annual pregnancy rate averaged 34 per 1,000 girls – vs. a rate of 158 per 1,000 among all sexually active teenage girls in the United States. Meanwhile, the abortion rate was 9.7 per 1,000 girls in the study, compared to a national abortion rate of 41.5 per 1,000 sexually active girls.

“What we’re seeing here are extraordinary declines,” Bill Albert, chief program officer for the Washington, D.C.-based National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, told HealthDay. Albert, who was not involved in the research, pointed to a key element of the study: Girls received counseling that emphasized the safety and effectiveness of intrauterine devices (IUDs) and contraceptive implants – and most of the teens opted for those types of birth control.

IUDs and implants are substantially more effective than the Pill or condoms, which are currently the top birth control choices among U.S. teens, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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