Colorado has seen the highest drop in teen birth rates in the entire country, and officials are putting the credit for that on a new family planning initiative that offers low-income women long-acting, reversible birth control methods (e.g. IUDs and implants) for little to no cost. And guess what? It actually works. It works really, really well.
This new initiative to offer long-lasting and reversible birth control instead of the pill or condoms is said to be responsible for three-quarters of the decline in the state’s teen birth rates, down 39% compared in the national drop of 29%.
After a teen gives birth, she is offered an IUD or implant before she leaves the hospital.
It’s a plan that should have everyone slapping their foreheads and saying, “Why didn’t we think of that?” After all, what would seem to be the best way to keep a teenager from getting pregnant — asking them to use short-term birth control via condoms, taking the pill everyday, or ineffective pleas for abstinence, or would it be better to give them an IUD that they don’t have to think about and is 99% effective for the next few years? They don’t have to convince their partners to wear a condom and they don’t have to make a choice every day about how they feel about getting pregnant (we are, of course, looking at pregnancy and not STDs, here). To underline the point, Colorado also had a 50% drop in teens with repeat pregnancies during the policy shift.
As Greta Klingler, the family planning supervisor for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment put it in the Washington Post:
If you have a drug that is 20 times more effective than other drugs, you will always start with that as your first option. What we did (in the Colorado Family Planning Initiative) is kind of flip the mindset, so rather than introducing all contraception as being on the same playing field, we said, ‘Let’s start with what is most effective.’
In fact, Colorado officials found that among new moms who chose short-term birth control upon leaving the hospital, 20% were pregnant again a year later as opposed to 2.6% of the moms who got implants. Another year later, 8% of the moms with implants were pregnant, while 46% of those who did not have long-lasting birth control were.
I am not sure why other states haven’t already done this — I assume it has something to do with money or lobbyists because I am a cynic. But compare the cost of providing long-lasting birth control to teens versus the cost to taxpayers of caring for those unintended pregnancies: the Center for Disease Control says the lowered birth rate saved $12 billion dollars in health care and child care in 2010 alone. So if money is your issue, then you can be reassured there.
Let’s not expect teenagers to be responsible all of the time. Let’s lessen their burden and help them dream of bigger and better futures. Let’s show them that we really do give a damn by putting our money where our mouth is and respecting them enough to give them a fighting chance.