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.

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