The war on teenage pregnancy in the United States has been ongoing since…well, since forever. Regardless of the generation, parents want the best for their children, and so teenage pregnancy has always been a community concern. As a result, Colorado decided to attack teenage pregnancy with a unique plan that has resulted in huge progress in lowering their state-wide pregnancy rates.
What was Colorado’s game-changing plan? They offered teenage and low-income women free birth control in the form of long-acting, reversible contraceptives.
Colorado’s project began six years ago in 2009 with private funding, and the results have been wildly successful. According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, this program resulted in a 40% decrease in teen pregnancies, with a 35% decrease in abortions.
The state’s decision to launch this program wasn’t just about lowering birth rates, but also about increasing the quality of life for young women. Teenage pregnancy often results in teens dropping out of high school and never moving on to a higher education — essentially trapping them in or close to the poverty level. And families in the poverty level often don’t have the funds to spend on contraceptives.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, the cost of contraceptives are a key concern for many women suffering from financial difficulties, which puts them at a much higher risk for unintended and multiple pregnancies.
“Making sure Colorado women have access to safe and effective contraception is an investment in their futures and ours,” stated Dr. Larry Wolk, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, executive director and chief medical officer.
Teen pregnancy rates have been declining for decades, and they’ve been at the top of the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) priority list for quite some time. According to the CDC, there was a 10% drop in teen pregnancy in the United States between 2012 and 2013, but their programs are more limited than Colorado’s program.
The CDC preaches evidence-based prevention programs, meaning that their programs push knowledge as a resource and encourage communication between teens and parents. While these are positive programs, they also state that “teens need access to youth-friendly clinical services,” which is exactly what Colorado has done.
By reducing the teen birth rate via free birth control, Colorado is essentially freeing young women across the state to further their educations and find better jobs. In short, this contraception program is providing an opportunity to increase the socioeconomic prospects of the entire demographic.
Unfortunately, Colorado’s program has hit a financial wall because their private funding is running out and the Affordable Care Act is struggling to step up to the plate. Even though the ACA set out to help women just like this, there’s concern that many women will be forced to pay a co-payment or, even worse, won’t have long-acting contraceptives offered as an affordable option.
Another layer to the issue comes from teens having to use their parents insurance instead of going to a free clinic. Even though an open dialog between teenager and parent is the ideal, it’s not always an option, and without the aid of the parent, teen pregnancy could begin to rise again.
Thankfully, the White House is aware of the risk of gaps in insurance and surcharges and issues a statement to insurance companies that they must cover “all forms of female contraception, including…intrauterine devices, without…co-payments or other charges.” However this doesn’t address the continued need for free clinics or a free way for teens to access birth control without a parent’s consent.
According to The National Campaign, “teen childbearing in the United States cost taxpayers (federal, state and local) at least $9.4 billion in 2010.” The expense of basic care for the children can fall on taxpayers, which includes everything from health and foster care, to nutrition programs for women and children and, in some cases, even incarceration due to a higher crime rate among those in the poverty level. Persons living under the federal poverty level are at a much higher risk of both committing a crime or being the victim of a crime.
Further, studies by the National Center for Health Statistics note “the largest percentage drop in nonmarital birth rates [within the United States] between 2007 and 2012 was for teenagers—the rate for those aged 15–17 dropped 30% to 14 per 1,000, while the rate for those aged 18–19 dropped 26% to 46 per 1,000.” However, that’s still less than the decrease in Colorado.
That means that if Colorado’s program broadened to the include the rest of the U.S., we could continue to see leaps in the decline of teenage pregnancy. Incidentally, the side effects of this program could include:
- better quality of life for young women and families
- better quality of life for children as a result of family planning
- freeing up millions if not billions of dollars in taxpayer funds for other use
- a reduction in the poverty level due to more educated people entering the workforce.
The demand for widespread availability of contraceptives is increasing as the population becomes more educated. These positive effects can continue to spread if the state and federal government can keep up with demand and continue to mediate costs between citizens and insurance companies.
Can Colorado’s plan lead to national results? Definitely. Will it be realized? Only time will tell.
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