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Reducing unintended consequences: Win for women and state

Trési Houpt
Trési Houpt
Charlie Westerman |

State lawmakers will soon be considering a program that is working to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies across our state, an issue that Garfield County has struggled with particularly through our high teen birth rate.

The program, called the Colorado Family Planning Initiative run by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, has provided access to long-acting, reversible contraceptives to more than 30,000 women who would have otherwise been unable to afford these more expensive, but also more effective, forms of contraception.

Funding for the program, which has been provided through a private grant for the last five years, is slated to run out in June. But a bipartisan team of state lawmakers, including Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, is fighting to keep funding alive. I support their effort because the outcomes from the program over the last five years are tremendously important to women and our entire state.

Some of the real results produced by the expanded access to predominantly intrauterine devices and hormonal implants include a drop in the birth rate for teens and young women, a drop in the abortion rate statewide and the avoidance of additional reliance on government programs. This initiative saved millions of dollars in health care cost avoided by Medicaid alone.

Let’s take a look at what some of those results could look like in Garfield County if a similar investment was made.

Rates of teen birth in Garfield County were among the highest in the state at 49 births per 1,000 teens in 2009. For years, we have been looking at ways to remedy this challenge. Although no health clinics in the county applied for money to increase use of IUDs and implants, we need look no further than our neighbors in Montrose County, where these programs were available, to see what a difference they made.

In 2009, when the program began, Montrose County’s teen birth rate was nearly 50 births per 1,000 teens. With access to this program, the rate there dropped to 28.8 by 2013, while Garfield County’s rate dropped to 38.7 during the same year. Both counties saw some improvement, but Montrose County saw significantly more. It’s no wonder Republicans, Democrats and independents are finding common ground in the value of this program.

While we encourage our teenagers to delay sexual activity, the plain numbers Garfield County is facing shows that many simply are not. We know that unplanned teenage pregnancy has very real consequences for a young mother and her family in the present and into their futures. Thirty percent of teenage girls who drop out of high school cite pregnancy or parenthood as a factor.

Another important factor for many in supporting the reduction of unplanned pregnancies is in the reduction of abortions that naturally follows. However you feel about abortion, we can all agree that reducing the number necessary each year is a positive development. With the introduction of greater access to IUDs and implants, abortion rates in Colorado dropped as well. Between 2009 and 2013, the abortion rate fell 42 percent among women ages 15-19 and 18 percent among women ages 20-24.

Unplanned pregnancy at any age impacts our wider community. In a time of tough economic choices, an investment in this program represents a smart way we can avoid unnecessary costs. It is estimated that every $1 invested in increasing access to the most effective contraception returns $5.85 in avoided health care costs to Medicaid alone. That’s a responsible use of taxpayer dollars. It’s also why other states are looking at ways to replicate Colorado’s successes.

This year, we have the opportunity to give more women a chance at creating a brighter future for themselves and their families, a future with greater educational and economic success. At the same time, we’re being responsible stewards of the state’s budget resources by making these investments. It’s important to all of us who care about this issue to reach out to our state lawmakers and make our voices heard.

Trési Houpt served as a Garfield County Commissioner from 2003 to 2011.


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