Crossposted from DemocraticDiva.com
I went to the salon discussion hosted by Arizona Family Health Partnership on the Colorado birth control experiment Thursday night and I have to say it exceeded my already high expectations of it. It was no elaborate production (though it was held in a nice art gallery), simply AFHP president Brenda Thomas giving a brief introduction of Greta Klingler, who then spoke about leading the effort in Colorado from 2008 to the present to address unplanned pregnancy among young and low-income women by offering them effective forms of birth control control for free. A six year study on the program’s effectiveness determined the results were “startling” in lowering unintended pregnancy and abortion rates.
They did in a big way, and the results were startling. The birthrate among teenagers across the state plunged by 40 percent from 2009 to 2013, while their rate of abortions fell by 42 percent, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. There was a similar decline in births for another group particularly vulnerable to unplanned pregnancies: unmarried women under 25 who have not finished high school.
“Our demographer came into my office with a chart and said, ‘Greta, look at this, we’ve never seen this before,’ ” said Greta Klingler, the family planning supervisor for the public health department. “The numbers were plummeting.”
Klingler reiterated several of the points in the NYT article I linked to and added several more anecdotes that clarified why certain directions were taken in the experiment. For instance, the participating clinics didn’t just neutrally offer all the various forms of contraception – everything from diaphragms to IUDs – they actively encouraged patients to select LARCs (long acting reverse contraception), such as IUDs, over less effective methods (based on normal use) like the pill. Contrary to the fevered imaginations of anti-choicers, this was not done for the purpose of turning adolescent girls and young women into temporarily infertile sex monsters. Rather, as one physician put it to Klingler, if you knew that a certain hypertension medication was twenty times more effective at controlling the condition than alternatives, why wouldn’t you offer that superior medication to your patient first? LARCs proved to be hugely popular with the study participants and this is believed to be a big factor in driving the remarkable results.
Klingler took questions from the audience and I asked if the program targeted the young or if it was available to all ages (it was the latter) which I followed by asking if they also offered sterilization. They did, and Klingler recounted how a young father of several children was tearfully elated to learn he could get a free vasectomy. That blew me away, since I didn’t even consider (my bad!) that men would be included in the program too.
Klingler explained that Colorado was chosen as the location by the funders of the effort because it is a “purple” state with somewhat similar demographics to the US as a whole. The Governor at the time, Bill Ritter, was a Democrat who opposed abortion but was supportive of family planning otherwise. Klingler described how the success of the program caused a political shift in the state such that Governor Ritter went from being merely accepting of the program to being wildly enthusiastic about it. Even some Republican legislators grew warm to the idea of free contraception and eventually supported the idea of state funding continuing for it after the private funding ended. One very religious and conservative legislator said that it went against everything she believed in but that she could not dispute the data and would therefore be voting yes. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, GOP leadership in the state senate killed the bill.
There was certainly opposition to the idea of dispensing contraception, widely and freely, from the usual quarters all along and Klinger said the clinics were initially sensitive to that and thus adopted a low-key community-based approach to promoting the program. But as the word got out about it and the successes mounted, they grew bolder and more confident about touting how great free birth control is. The public outcry to the GOP refusing to fund the program was strong and Klinger said that other foundations, including ones that would never touched something like this before have stepped up with funds to continue it. The Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion are also filling in the gaps in getting contraception to as many low-income Coloradans as possible.
When Greta Klinger concluded her talk, Brenda Thomas came back up and told the audience that her organization and others are working to bring something similar to the Colorado program to Arizona. Which Cathi Herrod will not like one little bit. Speaking of terrible people who obsess over punishing poor women for sex, as I drove up Central Avenue on my way home, buoyed by what I’d heard earlier, I stopped at a light behind a nice SUV with a (you guessed it) “STOP PLANNED PARENTHOOD” sticker on it. Sigh.
Few anti-choicers I engage with will admit outright to me that they oppose contraception access. Far more often they will insist that they have no problem with birth control but that they merely “don’t want to pay for it”. This is both a false claim, as evidenced by their many well-documented attempts to block actual contraception access, and an ignorant one, since they are not the only people in the country who pay taxes and insurance premiums.
But leaving that aside, it seems to me that if you are truly disturbed by abortion, and abortion remains legal in this country, that you would be willing to do whatever it took to lower the abortion rate, including using tax dollars to subsidize something that demonstrably reduces the unintended pregnancy and abortion rate among the people most likely to experience them. That would require acting like the conservative Colorado lawmaker who hates the idea of giving out birth control but realizes that the data don’t lie. Or you could continue to dig in and refuse because you’re bothered by the sex aspect of it. Your choice.
I generally hate the expression “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” but it seems to fit here.