As the Colorado legislature is locked in a bitter debate about whether to keep funding a family planning program for low-income women — a political fight that hinges on whether intrauterine devices (IUDs) are a form of abortion — some lawmakers are making a strong fashion statement in favor of the birth control method.
In order to drum up support for IUDs, and ultimately help demystify this particular form of long-acting contraception, politicians on both sides of the aisle have started wearing IUD-themed earrings and lapel pins. As the Denver Post reports, “the IUD jewelry is emerging as one of the most visible political symbols this legislative session.”
Lawmakers are currently considering a bill that would appropriate $5 million in state funding for a program, called the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, that provides women with IUDs and implants. Since 2009, this particular program has handed out an estimated 30,000 long-acting contraceptives, contributing to a staggering 40 percent drop in teen births over the past five years.
But the program has hit a roadblock among anti-choice lawmakers in the state, who incorrectly claim that IUDs are abortion-inducing devices. The disagreement over the science regarding IUDs could have big consequences: Unless the legislature agrees to designate state funding to keep it going, the Colorado Family Planning Initiative may not have enough money to continue its work in this area.
That’s where the IUD jewelry comes in. Lobbyists for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment trying to leverage support for the state-run family planning program found them on Etsy, where they’re sold by an Ohio-based OB-GYN named Virginia Smith. They bought 15 pairs — the largest order Smith had ever received — and started handing them out to lawmakers.
State Rep. Don Coram (R) is one of the politicians proudly displaying a glittery replica of an IUD. He attached it to his lapel, next to his pin of the American flag.
“A redneck Republican wearing an IUD — it just doesn’t make sense does it?” Coram joked in an interview with the Denver Post about his suit’s recent acquisition. “Seriously though, I think this is one of the most important bills we are looking at.”
Although Coram is personally opposed to abortion, he wants his GOP colleagues to support the Colorado Family Planning Initiative as a way to avoid unintended pregnancies and save taxpayer dollars in the long term. He’s also advocating for a separate measure to implement a statewide program aimed at preventing teen pregnancies and high school dropouts.
Smith, meanwhile, told a local ABC affiliate that she’s glad her IUD-themed jewelry is helping raise awareness about family planning in another state. “I think women should have access to options and so if this promotes access to options then I think that is a good thing,” Smith said.
Even outside of Colorado, IUD-themed clothing and jewelry is picking up steam. Smith isn’t the only Etsy seller specializing in wares shaped like the contraceptive. Jessy Hennesy, a sexuality educator with the Unitarian Universalist Association, told ThinkProgress earlier this year that she bought a pair of IUD earrings from a different Etsy shop in order to spark conversation about birth control at her church.
In general, as the number of U.S. women opting for IUDs has been steadily on the rise, more women are starting to feel comfortable talking about the subject. As the most effective reversible form of birth control — enthusiastically endorsed by pediatricians and gynecologists alike — IUDs have started to gain somewhat of a cult following among the people who use them.
But IUDs also aren’t without controversy among abortion opponents. Last year, the evangelical owners of the craft chain Hobby Lobby went all the way to the Supreme Court to fight for their 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 helped advance leading anti-abortion groups’ broader efforts to rebrand birth control as abortion. Depending on what ends up happening in Colorado, conservative lawmakers there could help further that talking point, too.