Just five years since Colorado introduced an innovative family planning initiative providing little to no-cost long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) to low-income women in 68 clinics, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced a 48 percent decline in teen births and abortions statewide, effectively linking access to affordable reproductive care to low rates of unintended pregnancy.

Since 2009, the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, a five-year pilot program funded privately with a $25 million grant from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, has provided more than 30,000 intrauterine devices (IUDs) and other LARC methods including hormonal implants to low-income and uninsured women across the state. According to data compiled by the Colorado Department of Public Health, both births and abortions among women aged 15-19 have been cut in half, decreasing by as much as 48 percent between 2009 and 2014.

Women ages 20-24 are seeing drops, too. In the last five years, the birth and abortion rates within their age group dropped by 20 percent and 18 percent respectively. Moreover, the program has saved Medicaid approximately $79 million in birth-related costs between 2010 and 2012, meaning for every dollar spent, the initiative has returned $5.85 back into the social safety net.

Unfortunately, some remain unconvinced of the initiative’s clear benefits. In May, the Colorado Senate voted down a bill appropriating $5 million for the program, funding that would have sustained the program beyond the previous grant’s July expiration date. Several organizations have since pledged roughly $2 million to fund the program until June next year.

But according to Colorado’s chief medical officer and health department executive director Dr. Larry Wolk, the program’s effectiveness is undeniable. Given three-fourths of Colorado’s teen pregnancies are unintended, the need for increased access to affordable contraception could not be more critical.
“This initiative continues to prove its effectiveness,” said Wolk. “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.”

Media Resources: National Partnership for Women and Families Women’s Health Policy Report 10/26/15; Feminist Newswire 8/12/14; RH Reality Check 4/30/15; Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment 10/21/15

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