Between 2007 and 2012, Colorado saw the highest percentage drop in birth rates among teens 15 to 19 in the country.
In fact, in less than five years, the Colorado teen birth rate declined by a staggering 40%. And there have been plenty of other benefits, too.
What’s the reason for this decline?
For the answer, we need to go back to 2008, when an anonymous donor made a $23 million, five-year commitment to provide long-acting reversible contraception such as intrauterine devices or implants for low-income women who needed them, for free or at very low cost.
Thus began the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, which provided more than 30,000 IUDs or implants to women served by the state’s 68 family-planning clinics.
“We really strongly believe that adolescents need access to contraception,” says Liz Romer, a family planning nurse at Denver Children’s Hospital.
“It needs to be readily available, the same day, and it needs to be free.”
So there you have it: give young women access to contraception at little or no cost, and they will make a reasoned, mature decision about their own bodies.
The type of birth control is also important.
“With an implant or an IUD, if someone wants it out, we take it out, but once it’s in and they have to make an appointment to take it out, they really have to think, ‘OK, do I want a baby now, really?’” says Dr. Stephanie Teal, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s medical director of Family Planning. “As opposed to the pill, you basically have to decide every single day, ‘Do I want to be not pregnant?’ And some days, you might want to be pregnant.”
U.S. Teen Birth Rates Dropping
The reality is that teen birth rates in the U.S. have been dropping for some time, for all groups and in all states. Since 1991, the decline has been especially pronounced (63 percent) for African American teens age 15 to 19, according to a survey and study of teen births from 1940 to 2013 published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics.
Even though the population has grown, the decreasing rate means far fewer babies are being born to American teens now than at any time in the past 75 years. Back in the 1970s, teenagers gave birth to around 650,000 babies each year; last year, that number came in around 275,000.
While the U.S. birth rate for teenagers is decreasing across the country, Colorado has seen a quicker drop: between 2008-2012, it jumped from 29th-lowest teen birth rate in the nation to the 19th lowest.
Greta Klingler, the director of the Colorado program, was stunned when she got the first results back about how the initiative was working. “The demographer whom I worked with on the analysis of the data kept coming into my office and saying, ‘Look at this, I’ve never seen this before.’” Klingler says.
Even More Benefits
The Colorado program has also brought all sorts of other benefits. Teenagers visiting the clinics to take advantage of the contraceptive scheme also receive regular medical checkups, and information about many more topics, including the risks of and ways to prevent STDs.
Those involved in the project say it is showing the rest of the country the huge benefits of offering birth control for free — to public health and to the economy — both in savings to government-funded healthcare schemes and gained productivity of those who did not get pregnant as teenagers.
While the program has meant a better life for many Colorado women, it has also resulted in saving a lot of money. State officials report that programs like Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), which provide education and support to low-income families, have seen nearly a quarter fewer cases, and the state suggests a savings of more than $40 million in expenditures associated with teenage births.
Other states are certainly taking notice of what Colorado has achieved. But could it happen across the country? There was opposition to this scheme in Colorado, but this was overcome because the program relied on private money.
Is the United States ready to use public funds to give teenagers free contraception? What do you think?
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