Unplanned pregnancy is the norm in the United States. According to a February 2015 report by the Guttmacher Institute, 51% of pregnancies in America were not planned. In some states, including Texas, that number is even higher – around 54%, according to the most recently available statistics.
In 2009, Colorado looked at unintended pregnancy and asked, what would happen if there was greater access to the most effective methods of family planning: long acting contraceptives? In the interest of answering this question and finding a solution for their state, they found unprecedented success, the New York Times reports.
The program, funded by a grant, focused on two specific demographics: teenagers and low-income women, for whom the impact of an unintended pregnancy can be especially devastating. For low income women and young teens, an unintended pregnancy can derail any hope they have of getting out of a cycle that is all too familiar.
By using long acting reversible contraceptives, or LARCs, Colorado helped these women access the most effective methods of contraception that offer a variety of options when it comes to more actively timing their pregnancies. LARCs, which include intra-uterine devices (IUD’s) and the birth control implants, carry the lowest risk of pregnancy. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) reports that “fewer than 1 in 100 women using an IUD or an implant will become pregnant.”
And, due to the inclusions of LARC’s as preventative healthcare covered under the Affordable Care Act and a 2014 update to the American Academy of Pediatric’s (AAP) recommendations regarding the use of these methods for teens, access to these contraceptives has increased greatly for women of all ages across the country.
Cost can be the largest obstacle for those seeking to use these methods, as LARCs can carry a price tag of up to $900. Access through programs like Colorado’s or through insurance governed by the ACA is absolutely necessary for increasing these method’s use – and funding these initiatives is an investment with an incredible impact.
Estimates from the Colorado State Health Department found that the state saved $5.85 in Medicaid costs per dollar spent on providing long acting contraceptives. The program even reduced the number of women using WIC, a federal program that supports nutrition for women with young children, by twenty-five percent between 2010 and 2013.
Not only did the state save money through these reductions in reliance on social safety nets, they also saw a forty percent decrease in the rates of teen pregnancy in the state. The decline was especially significant for young women who had not finished high school.
Colorado isn’t the only place that has seen a decrease in teen pregnancy when young people are given the option of accessing LARC’s in an environment that is affordable and free of stigma. In Seattle, six high schools are now providing access to LARC’s through a state program and the support of a nonprofit. Not only does this have positive outcomes for rates of teen pregnancy, it has also given teens at these high schools the agency to take responsibility for their reproductive health, and to become actively engaged in making the best decisions for their bodies.
In Texas, where over a third of single mothers facing unplanned pregnancies have not finished high school, Republican legislators continue to focus on increasing obstacles as the best tool to reduce the numbers of abortions in the state. Following the results of Colorado’s program, it might be time for them to take a look at increasing access – to LARC’s. Not only did the program reduce the incidence of unplanned pregnancy, it also reduced the rate of abortion in Colorado – by forty-two percent.
Texas is tied with Arkansas as the state with the third highest rate of teen pregnancies, and the highest rate of repeat teen pregnancies. If the evidence from Colorado and Seattle is any indication, increasing access to long-acting reversible contraceptives could be key to improving health for Texas teens and helping every Texan have more control over when – or whether – they choose to have children. And that is better for everyone.