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Reducing the U.S. abortion rate by
reducing unwanted pregnancies: Part 2

2009: A very successful effort in Colorado

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This topic is a continuation from a previous essay

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Starting in 2009, the state of Colorado conducted a large experiment offering long-acting birth control to female teenagers and poor women. The birth control was in the form of intrauterine devices and implants that function for years to prevent conception.

Results were remarkable. the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported that:

  • The birthrate among teenagers in Colordao was reduced by 40% between 2009 and 2013.

  • The rate of abortion among teens was reduced by 42%.

  • A similar reduction ocurred among unmarried women under the age of 25 who had not finished high school. 1

Greta Klingler, the family planning supervisor for the public health department, said:

"Our demographer came into my office with a chart and said, ‘Greta, look at this, we’ve never seen this before. The numbers were plummeting." 1

When the program began in 2009, half of all first births in the poorest sectons of Colorado occurred before their 21st birthday. Five years later, half of first births did not happen until they had reached their 24th birthday. This allowed them to complete their education and establish a career.

Isabel Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution said:

"If we want to reduce poverty, one of the simplest, fastest and cheapest things we could do would be to make sure that as few people as possible become parents before they actually want to." 1

Debbie Channel, the manager of the Outreach and Women’s Clinic at the Spanish Peaks Regional Health Center, said:

"If you get pregnant here, you are stuck. We’re trying to keep them safe and baby free."

The state Medicaid program covers the cost of more than three out of four teenage pregnancies and births. The state health department estimated that for every dollar spent on the long-acting birth control initiative, the state's Medicaid program saved $5.85.

She has written a book titled "Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage."'s book review reads:

"Over half of all births to young adults in the United States now occur outside of marriage, and many are unplanned. The result is increased poverty and inequality for children. The left argues for more social support for unmarried parents; the right argues for a return to traditional marriage.

In Generation Unbound, Isabel V. Sawhill offers a third approach: change 'drifters' into 'planners.' In a well-written and accessible survey of the impact of family structure on child well-being, Sawhill contrasts 'planners,' who are delaying parenthood until after they marry, with 'drifters,' who are having unplanned children early and outside of marriage. These two distinct patterns are contributing to an emerging class divide and threatening social mobility in the United States.

Sawhill draws on insights from the new field of behavioral economics, showing that it is possible, by changing the default, to move from a culture that accepts a high number of unplanned pregnancies to a culture in which adults only have children when they are ready to be a parent." 2

During the Colorado experiment, the contraceptive of choice by most women were the long-acting implants. Dr. Jeffrey Peipert, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University in St. Louis said:

"The difference in effectiveness is profound."

The concraceptive pill failed about 5% of the time. The implants and IUDs failed less than 1% of the time.

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Problems implementing the Colorado program elsewhere:

The Colorado program was funded by a private grant from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation. In other locations of the country, it would need government funding. That may be difficult to arrange because the program allows teens and unmarried women to freely and safely engage in sexual activities. Many religious and political conservatves advocate celibacy outside of marriage, and abstinence education in schools. A government-run program of effective birth control would torpedo these programs. And so, the abortion rate across the country will probably continue at a high level.

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. Sabrina Tavernise, "Colorado’s Effort Against Teenage Pregnancies Is a Startling Success," The New York Times, 2015-JUL-05, at:
  2. book cover Isabel V. Sawhill, "Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage," Brookings Institution Press (2014). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store Available for $12.06 in Kindle format, $22.35 in Paperback, and @24.21 in Hardcover.

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Author: B.A. Robinson
Originally posted on: 2018-AUG-08

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