Ethics Institutions Politics

Colorado offers long-term birth control, sees abortions plummet

Holding an IUD birth control copper coil device in hand, used for contraception.
Holding an IUD birth control copper coil device in hand, used for contraception.

Photo courtesy of flocu via Shutterstock

Started in 2009 with an anonymous private grant, the state-run Colorado Family Planning Initiative gave free or reduced-price IUDs or implantable birth control to more than 30,000 women.

DENVER – A much-heralded Colorado effort credited with significantly reducing teen pregnancy and abortion rates is searching for new funding after GOP lawmakers declined to provide taxpayer dollars to keep it going.

Started in 2009 with an anonymous private grant, the state-run Colorado Family Planning Initiative gave free or reduced-price IUDs or implantable birth control to more than 30,000 women. During that period, births to teen mothers dropped by 40 percent and abortions dropped 35 percent, the state said. Armed with a national award for excellence, state health officials asked lawmakers this spring to provide $5 million to keep it going but were rebuffed.

Colorado officials say the program saved taxpayers $80 million in Medicaid costs they would have otherwise paid to care for new mothers and their children. Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment on July 1 formally asked the public for money to keep CFPI going.

“Making sure Colorado women have access to safe and effective contraception is an investment in their futures and ours,” Dr. Larry Wolk, the CDPHE executive director and the state’s chief medical officer, said in a statement.

Critics of the state funding for the program say national teen birth and abortion rates have been falling nearly as sharply as Colorado’s. Abortion opponents often criticize IUDs as “abortifacients” because in rare cases an egg can become fertilized but not implant.

Across the United States teen births have reached historically low levels, according to Bill Albert, chief program officer at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. He said says a combination of “less sex and more contraception are driving rates down.”

“Before if you wanted to avoid pregnancy, you take a pill every day at nine a.m. or use condoms correctly every time,” Albert said. “It required a game-time decision. With the IUD and implant, it completely changes the default. Now if you want to get pregnant you have to see a medical professional to get it removed.”

According to the CDC, long-acting reversible contraceptives have a failure rate of less than one percent.

Colorado Family Action, which opposed state funding for the program, said using taxpayer dollars would have inappropriately inserted the government between children and their parents.

“We believe that offering contraceptives to teens, especially long-acting reversible contraceptives, while it may prevent pregnancy, does not help them understand the risks that come with sexual activities,” CFA said in a statement. “We should not remove parents from the equation — equipping teens for safe sex without their parent’s involvement bypasses this critical parental right and responsibility. Parents need to be the primary educator when it comes to sexual education and the primary decision about healthcare choices for their children. Lastly, Colorado taxpayers should not be paying for the ‘Cadillac’ of birth control for minor children.”

Wolk said CFPI was effective because it also trained doctors on how to insert IUDs.

“Many primary-care physicians aren’t necessarily trained in how easy it is to insert an IUD compared to writing a prescription for birth control,” Wolk said. “We want to expand the training, so when young women make the decision, they can have insertions done then and there without waiting for a doctor to order one.”

(Mary Braverman and Trevor Hughes write for USA Today.)

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Trevor Hughes

7 Comments

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  • Money to invest in birth control, money to invest in abortions, but none for natural birth control or instructions on abstinence, chastity, or self control. Why should insurance or the state have to fund a matter that is a personal responsibility that is avoidable? One can’t help getting cancer, but we all can avoid pregnancies.

  • Stories like this make it clear that the pro-life stance held by some Republican lawmakers are either too narrow in focus (they see no connection between birth control, poverty, lack of health care, etc… and abortion rates), or are simply political positions that carry no personal conviction. If someone is serious about reducing abortions, supporting safe and affordable/free birth control is table stakes.

  • Have you never taken a sexual education course? Abstinence is taught in schools where sex-ed is encouraged. Also, the article was pretty clear as to why the state has an interest in this: it brings down overall costs to society for behavior that, without infringing on the liberty of the People, cannot be controlled. It simply works better to reduce costs and grief for a society in a way that “just don’t do it” never has.

    That last sentence is a gross oversimplification on the one hand and patently untrue on the other.

    Cancer risk can be lessened by engaging in/abstaining from certain behaviors and rape victims don’t have a choice when they are inadvertently impregnated.

  • “none for natural birth control or instructions on abstinence, chastity, or self control.”

    That’s exactly as it should be. Mountains of evidence show that teaching those does not make a dent in the problem and is of no practical value whatsoever in the real world.

    JR, you are quite stupid and ignorant. Wake up and get a dose of reality, you stupid old fool.

  • Ed V. I think I’ll go with the second thought – craven political stances taken to appeal to a rabid pool of followers and to promote fear as a cause to raise mountains of campaign money.

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