News Contraception

Lawmaker Opposes Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program Because IUDs Stop a ‘Small Child From Implanting’

Jason Salzman

Citing inaccurate science, a leading Colorado lawmaker is signaling he'll oppose providing funds for a state program that, during a five-year privately-supported test phase, reduced teen pregnancies by 40 percent.

A state program in Colorado that’s reduced teen pregnancies by 40 percent over five years and teen abortions by 35 percent is facing opposition from a Republican state lawmaker who is wrongly concerned that intrauterine devices (IUDs), distributed for low or no cost as part of the program, cause abortions.

Private funding for the state-run Colorado Family Planning Initiative ends this year, and state Rep. KC Becker (D-Boulder) is working on a bill providing $5 million to keep the program going.

Becker’s bill is opposed by state Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud), who told the Ft. Collins Coloradoan that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s arguments for the bill amounted to “poor science,” citing his belief that IUDs work by “stopping a small child from implanting.”

Lundberg was referring to his unfounded concern, reported by the Associated Press in November, that IUDs are abortifacients.

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“I have no moral problem with contraceptives. The problem is when you kill the child,” Lundberg told the AP.

In multiple interviews, Colorado’s chief medical officer, Dr. Larry Wolk, said Lundberg is “not medically correct,” noting that IUDs work by preventing pregnancy from occurring.

Still, Lundberg told the Coloradoan, “I don’t buy the argument that they’re trying to prevent teenage pregnancy when they’re pushing this.”

“Protecting life is a very big issue,” the Coloradoan also quoted Lundberg as saying. “In my mind, that’s what government is all about, and to protect the life of the most vulnerable and most innocent seems to be the most important.”

Under the Family Planning Initiative, about 30,000 IUDs and other long-lasting contraceptive implants were distributed during a five-year pilot program. Participating clinics in 37 of Colorado’s 64 counties serve 95 percent of the state’s population.

The initiative saved $23 million in Medicaid costs since it started five years ago, and continuing the family planning initiative will save $40 million in Medicaid funds, the Department of Public Health and Environment has estimated.

Republicans hold a one-seat majority in Colorado’s senate, but observers say the teen pregnancy program funds may still clear the chamber, even without the support of Lundberg, who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee. Becker, the state house sponsor, has said her bill has a Republican co-sponsor, who has yet to be named.

Becker told the Coloradoan that she is currently trying to dispel the myth that IUDs cause abortions.

But high-ranking Republicans in Colorado, including 2014 GOP gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez, who lost to pro-choice Gov. John Hickenlooper in November, think otherwise.

In one widely publicized debate with Hickenlooper, who’s a strong supporter of the teen pregnancy initiative, Beauprez announced that he has a “big problem” with IUDs because an “IUD is an abortifacient.”

Scientists once thought that some forms of birth control, including IUDs, worked, in some cases, by stopping implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterine wall. But scientists now say they work by preventing fertilization, with the caveat that science cannot “definitively rule out that a method may inhibit implantation.”

News Contraception

After Relying on Private Donors, Colorado Lawmakers Fund Teen Contraception Program

Jason Salzman

“Ensuring women have access to the most effective methods of birth control enables them to create the best future for themselves and support a healthy start for their children,” said Erin Miller, vice president of health initiatives at the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed a budget bill Tuesday that included $2.5 million for a program that has reduced both teen births and abortions by 48 percent.

Republican lawmakers last year blocked funding of the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, which had been supported by $25 million from private donors during an initial five-year pilot project. The $2.5 million included in the budget bill will be combined with $1.6 million already allocated for the program, along with federal Title X funding and “local contributions,” from contractors, said Jody Camp, family planning unit section manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

The initiative has been “a game changer—successful beyond our dreams,” Camp wrote in an email to Rewire.

Asked for details on the initiative’s impact, Camp pointed to, among other metrics, Medicaid savings of $79 million over three years, a 58 percent drop in repeat teen births (teens having multiple babies), and 36,000 long acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs), such as intrauterine devices (IUDs), provided at no cost or low cost to low-income women.

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The $2.5 million in state funds will allow the program to run without private contributions next year, Camp explained.

The initiative provides LARCs, which work for up to 12 years but are expensive at the outset, as well as training for health-care providers.

“It is extremely important for our teen moms who are sexually active to have a full understanding of the health choices available, including birth control,” Lisa Steven, executive director of Hope House of Colorado, which offers free self-sufficiency programs to teenage mothers, said in an email to Rewire. “And, the more we can reduce the rate of secondary teen pregnancies, the more likely a teen mom is to become self-sufficient.”

Anti-choice activists have opposed the initiative for a variety of reasons. Some incorrectly believe that contraception leads to promiscuity, that Obamacare covers the program, or that IUDs, as one Colorado GOP lawmaker put it last year, prevent “a small child from implanting” in the uterus.

Gualberto Garcia Jones, vice president of the anti-choice Personhood Alliance, said one reason he opposes the state’s LARC initiative is what he describes as the negative effect it has on public perception of pregnancy.

“It is also concerning that when society treats children as something to be avoided, pregnancy begins to be seen as a disease,” Garcia Jones wrote in an email to Rewire. “The argument that children are a burden is only encouraged by these public policies, leading to a culture of abortion and barrenness.”

Backers of the initiative counter that the program creates stronger families.

“Ensuring women have access to the most effective methods of birth control enables them to create the best future for themselves and support a healthy start for their children,” Erin Miller, vice president of health initiatives at the Colorado Children’s Campaign, told reporters.

Lisa VanRaemdonck, executive director of the Colorado Association of Local Public Health Officials, told reporters, “When women have access to the family planning method that works best for themselves and their families, our financial investment is returned through better short and long-term outcomes for women and their families.”

Officials from the state’s health department are trying to improve the Family Planning Initiative by offering LARC training to a wider variety of health-care providers, such as pediatricians and school-based health center clinicians who work outside of the family planning network.

The department is sponsoring a LARC Symposium June 6 and 7 in Denver.

News Contraception

Colorado Contraception Program Overcomes GOP Opposition

Jason Salzman

In a reversal from last year, Colorado lawmakers on Thursday approved a state budget that includes funds for a program credited with reducing the teen birth rate by 40 percent and the teen abortion rate by 35 percent.

Funding has survived for a successful contraception program in Colorado after a group of Republican lawmakers joined Democrats in supporting the initiative.

A recorded vote on the amendment Thursday confirmed that four Republicans joined Democrats in killing the anti-LARC amendment, the Denver Post reported.

Both pro- and anti-choice advocates knew that Republicans in Colorado’s senate would offer an amendment this week to eliminate funds from a budget bill for a state program credited with reducing the teen birth rate by 40 percent and the teen abortion rate by 35 percent.

The question remained: Would Republicans, who have a one-seat majority in the state senate, hold ranks, as they did last year, and leave the program unfunded?

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The answer came Wednesday in the form of a senate voice vote against the amendment, offered by state Sens. Laura Woods (R-Westminster) and Tim Neville (R-Littleton), that would have eliminated $2.5 million for Colorado’s Family Planning Initiative. The program provides long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), such as intrauterine devices (IUDs), to low-income people.

About 30,000 long-lasting contraceptive implants were distributed during a five-year pilot program under the state’s Family Planning Initiative. Participating clinics in 37 of Colorado’s 64 counties serve 95 percent of the state’s population.

During a brief debate on the senate floor Wednesday, Neville expressed his concern about the “use of widespread and temporary sterilization products on women and girls in Colorado.” Such “temporary sterilization,” he said, does “nothing to prevent the spread of STDs.”

“There is nothing to suggest that the psychological and medical risks and costs associated with the increased sexual activity will be managed or addressed by these funds or this legislation,” Neville said.

LARC usage does not result in increased sexual activity, studies show.

Some state GOP lawmakers have said they stood against funding for LARCs because they considered that kind of contraception to be abortion.

“I have no moral problem with contraceptives. The problem is when you kill the child,” state Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud) told the Associated Press in November 2014.

Medical professionals have repeatedly shown that Lundberg’s assertion about LARCs is medically inaccurate.

Woods, the other sponsor of the amendment, tried to cut LARC funding despite warnings that her anti-choice positions could damage her re-election efforts in a swing district vital to GOP hopes of retaining control of the state senate.

Pro-choice advocates praised the vote to retain LARC money in the budget bill, saying it will offer Coloradans control of their fertility.

“Self-determination and the ability to be a parent when we are ready should not be a privilege,” said Cristina Aguilar, director of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), in an email to Rewire. “All women should be able to make decisions about their bodies and their futures.”

Colorado’s house last week rejected a similar amendment, so now the state budget bill will go to Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), who is expected to sign it.

House Republicans voiced similar opposition to the LARC funds.

Some opposed the program based on the incorrect argument that IUDs cause abortions.

“I would be fine with family planning,” said Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, as quoted in the Colorado Springs Gazette. “I would be fine with some kinds of birth control, but when the taxpayers are funding post-conception abortion pills, that crosses the line.”

Other Republicans, such as Rep. Patrick Neville (R-Castle Rock), argued that “birth control is already covered by the Affordable Care Act,” and thus Colorado’s initiative is not needed—even though the program’s training and funds for some types of birth control are not covered by the national health-care law.

Pro-choice advocates said the LARC program should serve as a model for other states.

“Here in Colorado, we know what’s proven to work on women’s health care—access to low-cost, long acting reversible contraception and keeping medical decisions between women and their doctors,” said Karen Middleton, director of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in an email to Rewire. “Funding the LARC program is one of the smartest things we can do for both individual women and public policy as a whole. We hope other states will follow Colorado’s lead.”

After Colorado Republicans rejected $5 million for the LARC program last year, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment undertook its own fundraising effort, raising enough money to keep the program going at a reduced level.

The original six-year LARC pilot program was undertaken in Colorado with support from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation.