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Thursday, October 27, 2016

In early July, Colorado’s success with free long-acting contraceptives was trumpeted by news media. The New York Times called the results “startling” and “stunning.” “Colorado’s free birth control experiment could change the world,” raved SFGate, a news website.

But the news was not so surprising.

After health authorities provided free contraceptives such as intrauterine devices to low-income girls and women over six years, from 2009 to 2013, the out-of-wedlock birth rate among teenagers dropped by 40 percent. The abortion rate among that group declined by 42 percent, said the Times, using figures from Colorado officials. And they reported similar declines among unmarried women younger than 25 and without high-school diplomas — a group likely to be mired in poverty if they started motherhood too soon.

Aren’t those results exactly what you’d expect when young women are given easy access to a reliable and simple-to-use method of birth control? Isn’t that what advocates of women’s reproductive health have been preaching for decades?

Here’s the surprise: The Colorado state legislature has refused to provide $5 million to renew the program, despite its dramatic results. Apparently, its members were cowed by opposition from the usual coalition of right-wing religious groups, such as Colorado Family Action. (The initial funding was provided by an anonymous donor.)

“We believe that offering contraceptives to teens, especially long-acting reversible contraceptives, while it may prevent pregnancy, does not help them understand the risks that come with sexual activities. We should not remove parents from the equation,” Colorado Family Action said in a statement.

Allow me to interpret the statement from CFA: If teenage girls have sex, we want them to get pregnant and suffer for it. This sort of political falderal makes me want to bang my head on my desk. If we want to reduce unintended pregnancies — which leads, of course, to a reduction in abortion rates — we know how to do it: Provide free contraception, preferably long-acting and reversible methods such as IUDs. Yet, the very right-wingers who denounce abortion rights refuse to support widespread contraceptive use.

While the figures from Colorado are dramatic, rates of teen pregnancy have been falling for decades. The teen pregnancy rate in the United States reached its peak in 1990 and has been dropping since then.

According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit that works to advance reproductive health, the decline, at least since 2003, has “little or nothing to do with teens’ delaying sex. … Instead, the decline in teen pregnancy in recent years can be linked to improvements in teens’ contraceptive use.”

In the late 1990s, reproductive experts started to notice that unintended pregnancies had dropped, especially among teenagers, as they began using long-acting birth control methods such as Norplant, which was implanted under the skin, and Depo-Provera, administered through injection. The advantage lies in ease of use: Women don’t have to remember to take a daily pill.

Still, even with the successes of recent decades, the United States has a higher rate of unintended pregnancies — more than half are unplanned — than virtually any other industrialized country. And 40 percent of those end in abortion, according to Guttmacher researchers.

Cultural and religious conservatives insist that teaching teens to abstain from sexual activity is the answer. But the states most likely to insist on that approach — my home state of Alabama is one — have the highest rates of teen pregnancy. Alabama has the 15th-highest rate of teen pregnancy, according to federal statistics. Mississippi, equally conservative and even poorer, has the second.

If you still don’t believe it, take a look at Bristol Palin, daughter of Tea Party darling Sarah Palin. Once a spokesperson for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, she pledged after her first child not to have sex again until she married. She is now pregnant with her second child as a single mother.

The facts are staring us in the face: We know how to prevent unplanned pregnancies and the poverty they so often drag in their wake. We know how to dramatically reduce the rate of abortions. It’s simply crazy that we refuse to do what works.

Copyright 2015 Cynthia Tucker

Photo: +mara via Flickr

  • charleo1

    Isn’t this all about control, with the so called, “Social Conservatives?” The idea that society, that’s you, me, and everyone else, should behave in a certain way. Follow a certain set of rules, teach our children about this set of guidelines. And then, for those of us that run afoul of all that, that fail to comply with the rules. Well then, it’s up to them to make sure there are very dire consequences. And they really don’t care much how dire those consequences turn out to be. Child poverty is regrettable, but abortion is murder. AIDS kills millions. But in the mind of the Moral Subjugationists, a righteous punishment from on high, for sin. Because, and this is an important common perception that drives this very determined group. A concept that they discuss all the time amongst themselves. The belief that with the special exception of themselves, the entire Country, and the World, as well as the overwhelming majority of it’s people are going to Hell in a hand basket. And it’s up to them to stop all this Sodom, and Gomorrah stuff. Who else, right? Before we all wind up suffering some form of God’s wrath. Which as it turns out, the reality of this all this, perceived “sin,” is actually nothing more than very normal people making their own choices, while exercising their Civil, and Constitutional Rights in a free, and open society. Which obviously is not in their control, and so turns out to be an anathema to everything they’re about.

    • groversyck

      The demented sloes who think their god wants it this way will be sadly disappointed when he returns.

      Actually, they will be sadly disappointed when they die, and nothing happens.
      You die, you are dead. the end.
      There is no god, never has been, never will be.

      • charleo1

        That’s certainly one take on it. That our final destination is not the other side, because there is no such place, never was, and never will be. Now, what many that get caught up in their own beliefs do, is tend to lose sight of the fact that under our Constitution, your Right to view religion in those terms is just as important to be upheld, and respected as theirs. That the Constitution protects The People, (that’s all of us) from being subjected to laws enacted, and enforced, for no other reason than the text, or teachings of a particular religious philosophy says so. So, there must be some other greater good, or harm demonstrated. Per the first question from the judge to the State of California on the landmark case that struck down that State’s ban on same sex marriage as unconstitutional. And started the cascade that ended this month in the Supreme Court’s verdict of finding in favor of same sex couples. Judge to Defendant: If same sex couples were able to legally marry in the State of CA. what harm would the State suffer? State’s answer to the Court: “I don’t know.”
        The same question might be ask of those opposing the State provision of contraceptives to impoverished teen age girls, and women on public assistance, as part of an anti-poverty regimen. What harm to society?

  • Carl Sdano

    Not only is the lack of funding going to result in more unwanted pregnancies amongst teenage girls, but this going to cost Colorado millions in related health costs. So much for purported Tea Party fiscal conservatism.

  • groversyck

    The last line in the article sums up the situation very well.
    “. It’s simply crazy that we refuse to do what works.”.
    That is a very good description of the religious loons who oppose making contraception available to all who want and or need it.

    Every young woman should be given one of the long acting contraceptives on her 13 birthday, and a renewal as needed.

    As the facts attest, hormones and curiosity will over rule abstinence only BS every time.

  • Eleanore Whitaker

    Actually, no. It won’t cost Colorado one dime. This is yet another of the Libertarianized red states who use double talk to get more than their fair share. Welfare is funded on a federal basis. So..sure. They love more unwanted pregnancies. That way, they get more in welfare tax subsidies.

    Alabama did the same thing when it decided to place their unemployed on phony SSDI for things the rest of the working class go to our jobs with every day: high blood pressure, Adult Type II diabetes and high cholesterol. But in red states, that makes it “impossible” for these DogPatch trough feeders to be gainfully employed.