DENVER | Colorado Democrats who credit a drop in teen pregnancy to expanding access to long-acting birth control such as intrauterine devices have to convince Republicans next year to use state funds for the contraceptives.
This summer, Gov. John Hickenlooper and his chief medical officer praised a five-year pilot program — supported with a $25 million private donation — that they said helped decrease Colorado’s teen birth rate by 40 percent from 2009 through 2013. Abortions also decreased, officials said.
The Colorado Family Planning Initiative has provided low-income women access to birth control like IUDs and hormone implants for free or low cost at 68 clinics in the state. But state officials say $5 million is needed to continue the program.
With Republicans controlling the Senate next session for the first time in 10 years, it could be a battle. Democrats control the House.
“We are talking about the most critical issue of protecting life or abortion,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, a Republican from Berthoud who will chair the Health and Human Services Committee. Lundberg said he doesn’t oppose the use of condoms or pills. But he said IUDs are “abortifacients,” meaning they cause abortions.
“I have no moral problem with contraceptives. The problem is when you kill the child,” he said.
“That is not medically correct,” countered Dr. Larry Wolk, the state’s chief medical officer and the director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which oversees the family planning program. He said IUDs work as a pre-fertilization barrier.
Wolk also noted that abortions decreased in the counties with clinics participating in the family planning program. In 2008, there were 1,700 abortions, and in 2012 there were 1,055, he said. The 37 of Colorado’s 64 counties that participated in the program have 95 percent of the state’s population, Wolk said.
Supporters of the family planning initiative say teen mothers are less likely to finish high school, and they’re more likely to be in need of public assistance.
“It’s not a political issue. It really is an issue of health and what’s in the best interest for these women,” Wolk said.
The $5 million request was included in Hickenlooper’s proposed budget, which he unveiled early this month. However, Republican Sen. Kent Lambert, who chairs the budget-writing Joint Budget Committee, said the funding request will require a stand-alone bill because of a state law that forbids state dollars from backfilling programs launched with private money.
House Democrats have a good chance of passing a funding bill. The Senate is another matter.
“It raises the question of, if you were successful getting a grant, why can’t you can’t you get grant again?” Lambert said.
Wolk said the private donor gave money to test whether there was a public benefit with such a program.
“Sure we can go back to them, but they feel like they’ve given,” he said.
The governor’s budget letter estimates that if approximately 5,500 get access to long-term birth control, the state can save about $40 million in Medicaid for prenatal, labor, and delivery costs.
“I think it’s fiscally irresponsible not to allow this for our population,” said Sen. Irene Aguilar, a Democrat on the Health and Human Services Committee.