DENVER — Democrats and Republicans are headed toward a clash over Colorado funding for long-acting reversible contraception such as intrauterine devices, which the governor and health officials credit for reducing the state's teen pregnancy rate.
Legislation expected to be introduced Friday would allocate $5 million to continue a program that lets low-income teens access birth control, like the devices known as IUDs, and hormone implants for free or little cost at 68 clinics in Colorado.
So far the program's cost has been supported by a $25 million private donation, and government officials say state funding is required to continue the program.
But not all Republicans are keen on the idea of using state dollars to fund the use of IUDs, which some conservatives equate to having an abortion.
Democrats who support the program, called the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, will have bipartisan help in the House, where the bill is starting. One of the co-sponsors is Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose, and he's bracing for his party's opposition.
"Oh, they're going to have a hemorrhage, to put it mildly," he said.
Coram is also sponsoring a separate bill to fund a counseling program aimed at helping prevent teen pregnancy and reducing high-school dropout rates by emphasizing abstinence.
Gov. John Hickenlooper and his chief medical officer praised the Colorado Planning Initiative last summer, saying it helped decrease Colorado's teen birth rate by 40 percent from 2009 through 2013. Abortion rates also decreased, they said.
Coram opposes abortion, and their decrease as a result of the program is one reason his colleagues should support the bill, he said.
"The same ones that are going to say, 'Oh, we shouldn't be doing this,' are very anti-abortion," he said.
While the proposal stands a good chance of passing the House, it'll be a challenge in the Senate — the more conservative of the chambers and where Republicans have a one-vote advantage over Democrats.
Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, chairs the Health and Human Services Committee where the bill could go first, and he's said IUDs are "abortifacients," meaning they cause abortions. It's a comment former Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez also made last year during a campaign debate.
IUDs work as a pre-fertilization barrier, said Dr. Larry Wolk, the state's chief medical officer and the director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which oversees the family planning program.
"It's hard for me because being a physician I like to sort of stay focused on the clinical information and the evidence and not get into the politics wherever possible," he said.
Wolk said pregnant teens face greater health risks, and so do their babies. He also noted societal costs of teen pregnancies, including the mothers having a difficult time finishing high school and thus becoming more likely to need public assistance.
Republicans have other reasons for opposing the bill. They believe the state shouldn't be funding something already covered by some health insurance policies.
"So in my way of thinking, why would the state want to fund something that's already covered in our health situation?" said Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa.
But Wolk notes that some of the women the program is designed for don't have health insurance. He said the funding also helps train health care providers on how to implant the devices.