Evangelicals want very much to prevent abortions. After all, abortion is taking away a unique life. Guess what? We know how to lower the abortion rate! Colorado lowered it’s teen abortion rate by 50% and it’s abortion rate among 20-24 year old women by 20%.
So, what did Colorado do? A private donor allowed Colorado to deveop a program to increase women’s access to family planning clinics, train health care workers, and provide long-acting reversible progestin contraceptives (LARPs) free of charge. LARPs are either implants in the skin that last 2-5 years or they are intrauterine devices with progestin that can last up to 10 years. Many women find these preferable to oral contraceptives because they do not require taking a daily pill. Also, many women do not bleed while on LARPs. They are not widely used because of their high up-front cost, but Colorado was able to make them available to women in their Title X family planning clinics.
What were the results? Colorado’s teen abortion rate decreased by 50%. This has to be balanced by the fact that the teen abortion rate across the country also decreased. And, at least part of this decrease is due to fewer teens being sexually active. The researchers estimate that at least half of the 50% drop is due to the widespread use of LARPs. And there was a 20% decrease in abortions among women age 20-24. That’s significant.
This program also cut the unintended pregnancy rate by 40% among teens and 20% among women aged 20-24. In addition, the fertility rate for the teens was decreased by half and for the older women by 20%. And, they increased the age at first birth, an important statistic in terms of maternal and child health.
And, at the risk of sounding clinical and cold-hearted, Colorado saved a boatload of money, too. Medicaid saved approximately 53 million dollars because of the decreased number of births. Temporary Assistance to Needy Families saved between $5 and $7 million and SNAP saved around $5 million and WIC saved around $3 million. Total savings are estimated at over $63 million.
This program is an amazing success in just about any way that you look at it. But, not everyone agrees. There are those who are concerned that LARPs are actually abortifacients; that is, they prevent implantation of an embryo. Back in the 80s and early 90s, researchers weren’t completely sure about the mechanism of action of LARPs, but newer research has given us answers. Progestins thicken cervical mucus so that sperm can’t get through into the uterus. Those sperm that do get past the cervix die in the uterus because the inflammation of the uterus caused by the progestins is spermicidal.
There is also the concern that giving out free birth control encourages promiscuity. Yet, there is no evidence of this. In fact, in an era of comprehensive sex education and much easier access to contraception than in the past, the rate of teen sexual activity has fallen. Besides, it’s clear to those of us who have worked in women’s health care that women are already sexually active. Programs like the one in Colorado show us that they want long-acting and reversible contraception.
So, why isn’t this available in every state? Political will. And a lack of interest in women’s health. Why would you not implement this program? It is good for women’s health. It is good for women socially. And it saves money.
What does this mean for me and you? At the beginning of the next Assembly session, I’m going to send this post to my representative. If that’s too much for you, then just support this kind of initiative if it comes up in your state. The ability for women to choose when to have their babies makes a huge difference, not only to their lives, but to the rest of our society.