Teen births in Colorado have dropped by 40 percent over the past five years, thanks largely in part to a state program that provides affordable contraception to low-income women, the state’s governor announced late last week. The long-lasting birth control that’s being partially credited for the dramatic decline is the same contraceptive method at the center of Hobby Lobby’s recent Supreme Court case.
The Colorado Family Planning Initiative, which has been funded by a private anonymous donor for the past five years, provides long-lasting forms of contraception — like intrauterine devices (IUDs) and birth control implants — to women who may not otherwise be able to afford them. Since 2009, the program has partnered with 68 family planning clinics throughout the state to hand out 30,000 IUDs and implants.
Now, state officials say that’s helped prevent thousands of unplanned pregnancies, unwanted births, and abortions. The infant caseload for Colorado’s Women, Infants and Children program, which provides state support for low-income mothers, dropped 23 percent between 2008 and 2013. And the teen abortion rate fell 35 percent from 2009 to 2012 in the counties that participated in the initiative.
Plus, the state ended up saving money. According to the latest data available, the decline in teen births helped save Colorado about $42.5 million in public health care costs in 2010. The officials involved in administering the program point out that avoiding unintended pregnancies ultimately helps young women avoid potential health issues.
“When families are planned and women have children when they’re ready and want them… it’s really a better situation for everyone,” Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) said during a news conference on Thursday.
This isn’t the first piece of evidence that providing women with affordable access to the IUD, which is the most effective form of birth control, has a positive impact on public health. A large 2012 study focusing on low-income women in St. Louis found that when they were given the choice between the full range of birth control methods without being charged a co-pay — essentially, the same policy at the heart of Obamacare’s contraceptive mandate — more of them started using IUDs. After that, fewer of them experienced unintended pregnancies and fewer of them got abortions.
Nonetheless, not everyone is convinced about the benefits of IUDs. The craft chain Hobby Lobby went to court for the right to drop coverage for this type of birth control, incorrectly claiming that IUDs are a form of abortion despite all scientific evidence to the contrary. Now that Hobby Lobby has won its case, it’s paved the way for dozens of other for-profit companies to drop that coverage, too.
Slowly eliminating workers’ access to affordable IUDs, a type of birth control that can cost more than $1,000 out of pocket, will ultimately have the biggest impact on low-income women who can’t necessarily afford them otherwise. This is an issue in Colorado, too, even despite the state’s recent success in this area. The private grant for the Colorado Family Planning Initiative runs out in 2015, and officials aren’t sure they’ll be able to secure state funding for it in the future.