What Mexico Can Teach Texas About Birth Control

Oct 27, 2016

Believe it or not, Mexico's family planning policies are more progressive than the United States' in one pretty big way.

According to a new study from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project based at UT-Austin, Mexican-born women who recently gave birth have an easier time obtaining long-acting birth control like intrauterine devices (IUDs)  in Mexico than in the United States.

A couple of years ago, researchers surveyed a group of Mexican-born women who recently gave birth and were living in Austin and El Paso at the time.

“We only interviewed women who did not want to have another kid in the next two years,” said Joseph Potter, the principle investigator on the study.

He says he and others interviewed these women at three, six and nine months after giving birth and asked them about birth control.

“Each time we kept asking them not only what they liked to be using, but the method they were actually using,” he said.

The study found more than half of the women surveyed wanted to use an IUD or other long-acting reversible contraceptive – only 8 percent were actually using them.

They also found women were more likely to be using a less effective method.

Dr. Ted Held, an OBGYN in Austin, has also done this kind of research and he says this story is common in Texas.

“I remember we had one patient who said, ‘I tried my hardest to get an IUD, but I couldn’t find a doctor to put in me for less than 800 bucks – so, I had to go to Mexico to get an IUD where I have relatives,’” Held explained.

In general, Mexico has better access to contraceptives like IUDs for post-partum women. That’s because in the 1980s, the country started offering them at no cost as part of its family planning program, but when these women came to the U.S.., access became a problem. Mostly, IUDs all of a sudden became a lot more expensive.

Just this year, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) changed its Medicaid policy to reimburse hospitals for the cost of the device itself and the cost of putting it in a woman who just gave birth. But, Held says, this policy hasn’t made post-partum contraceptives like IUDs that much more accessible. At least, not yet.

“It really hasn’t been implemented well yet, but I am hopeful that HHSC will help us learn how to implement it,” Held says. “But, if it is implemented, we will be one of a handful of states that’s doing a good job at it.”

Researchers say Texas – and the U.S. – could learn something from Mexico as it tries to improve access.

In its study, the Texas Policy Evaluation Project recommends training doctors in immediate post-partum insertion of IUDs, which became popular in Mexico decades ago.