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Colorado Program Increases Access to Affordable Contraception, Teen Birth Rates Plummet

Nina Liss-Schultz

According to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, around 70 percent of pregnancies in the state are unintended.

Teen birth rates in Colorado dropped by 40 percent over the past five years, in large part due to a government initiative that has increased access to affordable contraception in the state, according to Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The initiative was part of a state-wide family planning program developed by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which in 2009 began providing long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) through family planning clinics in the state. The department partnered with 68 clinics in Colorado and provided 30,000 IUDs and other contraceptive implants at low or no cost.

Five years later, the program has been met with great success. Since 2009, the percentage of young women using IUDs and implants quadrupled in the clinics participating in the initiative, and Colorado went from having the 29th lowest teen pregnancy rate in the country in 2009 to the 19th lowest in 2012.

In a statement on his website, Hickenlooper noted that around 70 percent of pregnancies in the state are unintended.

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“Unintended pregnancies, especially among teenagers, carry health risks for mother and baby,” said Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer of the Department of Public Health and Environment. “Our Colorado Family Planning Initiative has helped thousands of young women who weren’t ready to have children avoid pregnancy with affordable, safe and effective contraceptives.”

According to findings from a study by Sue Ricketts and colleagues at the Colorado Department of Public Health published in the fall issue of the peer-reviewed journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, the program had created a lasting effect by 2011. “One in 15 young, low-income women had received a LARC method, up from one in 170 in 2008.” The abortion rate dropped 35 percent among teens, and the number of infants receiving services through the state’s Women, Infants and Children program, which provides support to low-income women and their babies, fell 23 percent.

The program also saved the state money. According to the Durango Herald, a local newspaper, “Colorado saved millions in health-care costs associated with teen births—$42.5 million in public funds in 2010.”

Despite the evidence, instantiated by programs like the one in Colorado, that IUDs and contraceptive implants are more effective than other forms of birth control and lead to positive family planning outcomes, strong opposition and misunderstanding still remain in the United States. In its lawsuit, the craft store Hobby Lobby took issue specifically with IUDs, falsely claiming that the contraceptive method acts as an abortifacient. Hobby Lobby won its case last week, giving for-profit companies the right to deny employees contraceptive coverage.

Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify that the study published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health is by researchers at the Colorado Department of Public Health, not the Guttmacher Institute (which publishes the journal).

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