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Family Planning Initiative Rejected by Colorado GOP Has New Life

Jason Salzman

Colorado health officials have secured about half the funds that state Republicans voted down this year to run a program that slashed teen pregnancy rates by 40 percent.

After Republicans in the Colorado senate blocked funding of a successful teen-pregnancy prevention program, state health department officials began looking for $5 million in private funding to run the family planning initiative this year.

Health officials announced last week that they’ve raised $2 million from about a dozen foundations, allowing the program to continue training health-care providers, educating women about birth control, and subsidizing the purchase of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), including intrauterine devices (IUDs), for up to 6,000 women across Colorado.

“We are grateful for the generosity of so many visionary organizations,” Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), said in a news release. “With their help, we will continue to empower Colorado women to achieve their goals by choosing if and when they want to start a family.”

Some opponents of the program pointed to the private funding as proof that tax money need not be spent on the Colorado Family Planning Initiative. The six-year pilot program, with support from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, decreased Colorado’s teen pregnancy rate by 40 percent and teen abortions by 35 percent.

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Colorado Peak Politics, a conservative blog, argued that the “private sector’s willingness to step up and keep this program going just proves that government isn’t always the answers. In fact, it rarely is. Not that we expect Democrats to get the message.”

Asked to respond to the argument that the private sector should fund the program, NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado’s Karen Middleton wrote that while she was “delighted” by the “short-term” philanthropic support, she remains “profoundly disappointed that the Senate GOP could not manage to pass common-sense legislation and fund the program for the longer term.”

“We figured out how to reduce unintended teen pregnancies and decrease the abortion rate among teens,” Middleton continued. “Colorado has been a leader in addressing an important area of public policy that improves the lives of women, children and their families. We should be courageous enough to fund a proven cost-effective solution.”

Since funding ran out for the LARC program in June, after it was killed during the legislative session, many Title X family-planning clinics were “struggling” to provide women with contraception, and “many clinics have had to put women on waiting lists or charge them more for IUDs and implants,” according to a CDPHE news release.

Republicans were able to stop LARC funding thanks to their 18-17 majority in the Colorado senate.

In opposing funds for the LARC program, opponents not only raised fiscal concerns but also objected to the use of IUDs, which they falsely claim cause abortions. One state senator last year said IUDs “stop a small child from implanting.”

Wolk called the LARC program a “population health priority” and promised to pursue “a sustainable funding stream” through the state legislature. State observers aren’t optimistic that the Republican-controlled senate will change course and approve funding next year. If it does, however, funding would sail through the state house, controlled by Democrats, and be signed by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, also a Democrat.

The foundations that contributed to Colorado’s LARC program are: the Ben and Lucy Ana Walton Fund of the Walton Family Foundation, the Buell Foundation, the Caring for Colorado Foundation, the Chambers Family Fund, the Colorado Health Foundation, the Colorado Trust, the Community First Foundation, the Community Foundation Serving Boulder County, the Global Health Foundation, Kaiser Permanente Colorado, and the Women’s Foundation of Colorado.

CDPHE expects to receive more donations for the LARC program in the coming months.

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