Health

Colorado Republicans Refuse To Fund Award-Winning IUD Program That Reduced Teen Births

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Following a months-long political battle that centered on whether IUDs should be defined as abortion, Colorado Republicans have officially voted to eliminate funding for an award-winning family planning program that has contributed to a staggering 40 percent drop in the state’s teen birth rate over the past five years.

Ironically, the vote to deny funding from the program came just one day after it received a prestigious award from the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA), which periodically honors particularly effective reproductive health initiatives at its annual conference.

The Colorado Family Planning Initiative has been widely praised for expanding access to birth control among young women who are at risk for unintended pregnancies. Since its inception in 2009, the state program has provided thousands of IUDs and implants to low-income teens. Those long-acting forms of contraception are recommended for adolescents specifically because they’re so effective.

Nonetheless, right-wing Republicans balked at the idea of using public dollars to fund IUDs, suggesting that it amounts to subsidizing teenagers’ sex lives. Some opponents also claimed that IUDs are “abortifacients” that shouldn’t be paid for with government money. On Wednesday, a GOP-controlled Senate committee voted down a bill that would have appropriated $5 million toward the program.

The program will potentially be placed in jeopardy without taxpayer support. The private donation that created the Colorado Family Planning Initiative runs out this year, which is why public health officials requested money from the state legislature. Now that the request has been denied, they’ll be left scrambling for alternative funding sources.

Reproductive health experts aren’t pleased with the outcome of the legislative fight, which has stretched on for weeks and even inspired some lawmakers to don IUD-themed jewelry in an attempt to drum up support for the program.

“We are profoundly disappointed that the funding bill failed,” Clare Coleman, the president of NFPRHA, told ThinkProgress via email. She added that her organization is confident the recently-honored public health advocates in Colorado will “not give up the fight to ensure that everyone across the state has access to the most appropriate and effective methods of birth control regardless of cost.”

“It’s outrageous that, in this day and age, politicians in Colorado voted to dismantle a critical program that is proven to help young women reduce unintended pregnancy and plan for their futures,” Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement.

The conflict speaks to a larger controversy over IUDs that’s playing out across the country. Despite being widely embraced by medical professionals, this particular contraceptive method has increasingly been misconstrued as a form of abortion — particularly in the aftermath of the recent Hobby Lobby case, whose plaintiffs relied on this unscientific framing to justify dropping insurance coverage for IUDs. Now that the craft chain has won its case, it’s paved the way for dozens of other for-profit companies to drop that coverage, too.

However, abortion opponents actually have good reason to get on board with IUDs. Previous studies conducted among low-income women in St. Louis have found that the national abortion rate would plummet if more women across the country could start using long-acting forms of birth control. In Colorado specifically, health officials estimate that the family program program reduced abortions among teenagers by about 35 percent.

At least one GOP lawmaker in Colorado recognizes that. Rep. Don Coram (R) — a self-described “redneck Republican” — split from the rest of his party to come out in strong support of funding the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, pointing out that preventing unintended pregnancies is a fiscally responsible move. Last month, he even displayed an IUD pin on his lapel.

Coram told the Durango Herald that this week’s vote was disappointing. “I don’t think this should be a political issue,” Coram said. “Lives do matter, and if we’re going to break the cycle of poverty, this is a very good tool.”