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Study: teens who live near a Planned Parenthood are less likely to drop out of high school

Planned Parenthood supporters Andrew Burton/Getty

Teenage girls who live near a Planned Parenthood clinic are 16 percent less likely to drop out of high school, a new study finds.

Lots of studies have found that teen moms are significantly less likely to graduate from high school than non-parents; 30 percent of female dropouts cite "pregnancy" and "parenthood" as key reasons for discontinuing their education.

This new research, published Wednesday in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, looked at both Planned Parenthoods that provide abortions and those that do not. And it found that in either case, living close to one (within a neighborhood of 100,000 people) was associated with fewer female high school dropouts.

There are more than 700 Planned Parenthoods. Living close to one might reduce dropout rates.

For this study, Tufts University's Katherine Hicks-Courant and Harvard's Aaron Schwartz used data on where people live and what type of reproductive health providers they have access to.

They looked at two types of clinics: those operated by Planned Parenthood and those that receive funding through Title X, a federal program that funds family planning for low-income women. The clinics that receive Title X funds aren't always devoted to reproductive health specifically; many offer other primary care services.

Hicks-Courant and Schwartz did two things with their data. First, they controlled for variables like race, income, local poverty rates, and a few other factors that could affect high school dropout rates. They also compared female dropout rates with male dropout rates, the idea being that better access to birth control should help women stay in school but wouldn't do much for men.

What they found was a bit surprising: Living near a Planned Parenthood did correlate with fewer female students dropping out of school. But living near a Title X clinic didn't; there was no apparent advantage to having easier access to the federally funded birth control.

"We don't have a great reason for why that is," Hicks-Courant says.

She says it's possible that women just know of Planned Parenthood as a place to get birth control in a way they don't know about the Title X program. Planned Parenthood has built its entire brand around, well, planning parenthood.

There is separate research that suggests some teenagers prefer to get their contraceptives from someone other than their primary care provider, so they can maintain greater privacy over the decision.

As Planned Parenthood comes under siege, researchers are studying the organization more carefully

Planned Parenthood has weathered a fierce political storm in recent years, with Republican legislators and presidential candidates repeatedly calling for the organization's defunding. Texas successfully defunded the group in 2013.

At the same time, researchers have started to explore what role the group plays in America's reproductive health services. As Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan pointed out at the recent Supreme Court arguments on Texas's new abortion law, the closure of many clinics has created an unusual window to explore what effect Planned Parenthood has.

"It’s almost like the perfect controlled experiment as to the effect of the law, isn’t it?" she said. "It’s like, you put the law into effect, 12 clinics closed. You take the law out of effect, they reopen."

One recent study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found that Texas's defunding of Planned Parenthood correlated with an increase of births among low-income women.

Planned Parenthood plays a big role in women's reproductive health care in America for two reasons: It has hundreds of clinics, and those clinics tend to serve a higher number of patients than other health care providers.

About one in six American counties — 491 counties in total — have a Planned Parenthood clinic. Taken together, they see about 2.6 million patients annually.

A health care organization that big has significant reach — possibly stretching, as this new study shows, as far as graduation rates.