Access to Contraceptives Just Got Harder in Colorado

May 7th 2015

Laura Donovan

Colorado State Senate Republicans recently blocked an effort to fund the Colorado Family Planning Initiative. This upset many in the reproductive health community, as the program reportedly helped lead to a 40 percent drop in teen pregnancies over the last four years. 

What is the proposal?

The proposal sought $5 million in state funds for the program, which provides intrauterine devices (IUDs) and other forms of birth control to Colorado women for little to no cost.

The Colorado Family Planning Initiative won an award from the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA) just a day before the GOP voted against state funding. However, the program's future is uncertain because its private grants -- which have been sustaining the program -- expire next month, and now it will not get state funding.

Why don't some lawmakers support it?

Some lawmakers opposed the initiative for including IUDs, which Colorado state Rep. Bob Beauprez (R) incorrectly called an "abortifacient" last year. Those who pushed for the bill said IUDs are not abortions, rather prevent abortions as they prevent pregnancies in the first place.

Colorado state Rep. Lori Sain (R) did not support the bill for more funding, out of concern that it would lead to more sexual activity among young people.

“While the sponsors are well-meaning, I would be against a bill that provided reduced cost, or free condoms to men for the same reason: this is not the role of government,” Saine told the Colorado Statesman. "[I]n this scenario, the government is subsidizing sex... because a woman typically doesn’t get birth control to hold hands and watch re-runs of 'Gilligan’s Island.' Also, I have seen no longitudinal-type study with a control group for this program ... According to the Center of Disease Control, the rate of teen pregnancies has been declining since 1940 and every year is a new record low nationally. And somehow this happened without the government contraceptive fairy."

What do reproductive rights advocates say?

"It's hard to ignore we've had a very significant drop in unintended teen pregnancies," Dr. Larry Wolk, director of the health department and pediatrician, said earlier this year. "These devices are not abortifacients. In 99 percent of cases, they prevent fertilization of an egg. In 1 percent, the hormonal effect is that it could prevent implantation of a fertilized egg."

The outcome has dampened the spirit of those fighting for reproductive rights in Colorado. NFPRHA President Clare Coleman told ThinkProgress this is a major letdown to her organization and women in the state.

“We are profoundly disappointed that the funding bill failed,” Coleman told the publication. She added that she is certain that birth control 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.”

Since its inception in 2009, the Colorado Family Planning Initiative has reportedly given 30,000 subsidized IUDs to women in the state. Over the last four years that the program has been in place there has been a 40 percent decrease in teen birth rates. For some perspective on how important this program is for women's health, at Planned Parenthood, IUDs can cost up to $1,000, but can also last for more than a decade. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, birth control pills are free, but must be taken at the same time every single day to be effective.

Other supporters of the bill see it in terms of economics:

Republican state Rep. Don Coram told The Durango Herald that he strayed from his party by lobbying for the measure, which he thought would be a good means to reduce poverty rates in Colorado. 

“It is a little disappointing because I don’t think this should be a political issue,” Coram said. “This should be a policy issue. Lives do matter, and if we’re going to break the cycle of poverty, this is a very good tool.”

Coram told NPR that the bill seemed like something the GOP would like as it saves the state money in welfare enrollment and Medicaid birth costs. "If you're anti-abortion and also a fiscal conservative, I think this is a win-win situation for you," he explained.