The health department in Colorado released data last week showing teen birth and abortion rates have dropped nearly 50 percent from 2009 through 2014, thanks to a program that provides free or reduced-cost intrauterine devices (IUDs) and other long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) to teenagers and low-income women.
In response, state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (R-Colorado Springs), a vociferous opponent of abortion rights, called Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) officials “science-deniers.”
“Although CDPHE’s science-deniers try to spin this increase in early-term abortions as a decline in late-term surgical abortions, they are killing children nonetheless, just sooner, and with your money,” Klingenschmitt said in an email to Rewire, echoing the belief of other Colorado Republicans.
Reflecting mainstream scientific thinking on the subject, Larry Wolk, Colorado’s chief medical officer, has pointed out that it’s “not medically correct” to say that LARC implants cause abortions.
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Under the widely accepted scientific definition, pregnancy occurs after a zygote (fertilized egg) implants in the uterine wall, and because these methods of contraception work prior to implantation, they do not cause abortions.
Despite its unmitigated success, state GOP lawmakers defunded the pregnancy-prevention program.
Wolk, however, praised the contraception program for reducing pregnancies and abortions.
“This initiative continues to prove its effectiveness,” Wolk said in a news release with the latest statistics about the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, referring to data showing a double-digit decrease in the teen pregnancy and abortion rate over last year’s composite data. “Thousands of low-income Colorado women now are able to pursue their dreams of higher education and a good career and choose when and whether to start a family.”
Under the initiative, 36,000 IUDs and implants were distributed to low-income people at family-planning clinics across Colorado, raising the use of such contraception from 4.5 percent of the clinics’ clients in 2009, when the program started, to 29.6 percent in 2014 (compared to 7.2 percent who use IUDs and implants nationally), according to the state’s news release.
Those outcomes have done nothing to keep opponents of the program from spreading misinformation.
“Setting aside the injustice of making all Colorado taxpayers fund these so-called ‘free’ contraceptives for teens with or without their parents’ authorization, the LARC program is clearly a taxpayer-funded abortifacient, which violates our state Constitution’s prohibition on direct or indirect taxpayer funding of abortions,” wrote Klingenschmitt, pointing to a footnote in an Obama Administration legal brief stating that LARC implants may prevent fertilized eggs from attaching to the uterine wall. “These unethical methods increase abortions substantially, by preventing conceived and living embryo babies (with unique human DNA) from implanting in their mother’s uterus, often without telling the mother she is doing so.”
Klingenschmitt, a former Navy chaplain who goes by the nickname of Dr. Chaps, has repeatedly generated headlines for controversial statements since he won his state house seat in 2014. He plans to give up his house seat next year and run for state senate. Klingenschmitt in January tried to hold a moment of silence in the state house for the “57 million American citizens that have been lost since the Roe v. Wade decision.”
Reproductive rights activists hailed the reduction in teen pregnancy in Colorado, but some cautioned that economic hardship and other struggles, with a variety of causes, can make pregnancy and child-rearing difficult for any parents, not just teens or young adults.
“We are thrilled to see the results of the [Colorado] Family Planning Initiative, but we are uncomfortable with some of the language used to advance this initiative,” said Cristina Aguilar, executive director of Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR). “The fact is that unintended pregnancy is tough at any age. We should look at ways to specifically address the barriers that people face, including young people, but we can and should do so without stigmatizing young parents.”
Colorado Republican lawmakers, during the 2015 legislative session, blocked legislation that would have provided state funding for CDPHE’s Family Planning Initiative, which was grant-funded during a five-year pilot phase that ended in June. Wolk subsequently procured more private funding to run a scaled-back program for another year.
Three of four Colorado teen pregnancies are unintended, according to the state news release.