DENVER — As the pro-life movement gains traction across America in response to the Planned Parenthood “aborted-baby-parts-for-sale” scandal, women have recently won a small but significant victory in Colorado.
Women doctors, mid-level practitioners and other advocates for women fought and defeated a contraceptive bill, which Democrats and even one self-described pro-life Republican, state Rep. Don Coram of Montrose, had enthusiastically supported.
The program was run through the state’s department of health and human services in the form of a grant from a private donor that began in 2009. Defeated H.B. 1194 would have provided $5 million in tax dollars to continue the program, which gave low-income girls as young as age 14 long-acting contraceptive implants and intrauterine devices (IUDs) — for free and without their parents’ consent.
The bill’s defeat “is truly a victory for women and girls in Colorado,” said Jennifer Kraska, executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference in Denver. “I think it was an eye-opener for a lot of people for Colorado to say this is not where we need to be spending our money if we want to impact the lives of women and girls.”
Although Kraska expressed sadness the program has gone on for so long, she called it “wonderful” that state legislators have decided, at least for now, not to fund the program with millions of Colorado’s tax dollars.
Those supporting taxpayer funding for free implant and IUD giveaways to kids claim the program reduced the number of low-income pregnancies and abortions in Colorado (and hence would save the state huge amounts of welfare money). They also argued that preventing pregnancy would help teen girls finish their schooling. During the time the program was in place, Colorado’s birth rate among inner-city teens dropped 40%.
But pro-life women opposing the measure say temporarily sterilizing teen girls without parental consent is a terrible idea and that the reasoning and “science” behind the defeated measure were seriously flawed.
During the six years the program was in place, rates of abortion in Colorado fell by 42%. This statistic is reportedly what helped persuade Coram to support taxpayer funding for the program. “If you’re anti-abortion and also a fiscal conservative, I think this is a win-win situation for you,” Coram told reporters in March.
However, Joyce Dennison, a Denver-area physician assistant who testified against the bill, said the claim made throughout the legislative hearings that long-acting contraceptive implants and IUDs will reduce abortion rates “is false, because one of the mechanisms of these contraceptives may result in abortion.”
“Although these contraceptives sometimes prevent ovulation or thicken mucous in the cervix so sperm can’t get through, a third mechanism — one abortion proponents don’t talk about — is that these drugs and devices thin the lining of the uterus, so when a tiny embryo tries to implant, he or she can’t do it.” As a result, Dennison said, “The embryo is aborted without the woman even knowing it happened.”
A fact sheet available on the Women Speak for Themselves website states that long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) don’t promote women’s freedom or health. Pointing out that many women suffer serious side effects from IUDs, the fact sheet states: “Consider the $100 million NuvaRing lawsuit or the Mirena IUD lawsuit or the article in the leading obstetrics and gynecology journal this past July 2014 about the potential link between hormonal IUDs and breast cancer.”
“Other potential side effects of LARCs include mood swings, weight gain and increasing the likelihood a girl will contract a sexually transmitted disease.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Estimates suggest that even though young people aged 15-24 years represent only 25% of the sexually experienced population, they acquire nearly half of all new STDs.”
Further, minorities in inner-city areas (precisely the women and girls targeted by the Colorado program) are at the highest risk of sexual transmitted infections. In 2013 (the latest year for which figures are available), the rate of Chlamydia among black women was approximately six times higher than the rate among white women.
Although proponents of the bill cited a number of studies to suggest LARCs and IUDs are safe for teens, Denver-area pediatrician Dr. Michelle Stanford said, “None of the studies [cited] are very big or very good. Simply from a scientific perspective, not even considering the moral aspects of this, I don’t see that there’s good science to say that long-acting contraceptives are safe in this population.”
Teen pregnancy rates dropped 40% in Colorado during the years the privately funded program was in place. So the program and pregnancy decline likely were correlated. But Stanford said there’s no good evidence the program caused the drop in pregnancies. In fact, teen births across the country are at historical lows, due to a combination of “less sex and more contraception,” according to Bill Albert, chief program officer at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, reported USA Today. Stanford pointed out that over the six-year period of the IUD program, from 2009 to 2013, higher numbers of Colorado teens were also professing to be abstinent. Although Stanford said the contraceptive program “probably had some impact on birth rates,” how much of that impact was due to the giveaway program and how much to other unmeasured factors is impossible to gauge.
Meanwhile, Stanford said, side effects and complication rates of these allegedly “safe” contraceptives simply weren’t studied.
In any case, Stanford added, “The Affordable Health Care Act already covers all contraception, and [the bill’s supporters] were asking for $5 million from the state for one year. That was a big issue here in Colorado, and I think that’s probably why it didn’t pass.”
Although the battle in Colorado is over for now, Jennifer Kraska predicted the fight will continue.
“The issue will be back again next year. It’s an ongoing battle,” she said. “But in the short term, we’ll take whatever victories we can get.”
Register correspondent Sue Ellen Browder writes from Ukiah, California.