Colorado Springs teen birth rate drops 37 percent

July 3, 2014 Updated: July 3, 2014 at 9:36 pm
photo - The Colorado Family Planning Initiative, which gave or sold 30,000 intrauterine devices - also known as IUDs - at little or no cost.
The Colorado Family Planning Initiative, which gave or sold 30,000 intrauterine devices - also known as IUDs - at little or no cost.  

Colorado's teen birth rate dropped 40 percent over a four-year stretch in light of a program that has offered thousands of free or low-cost birth control devices to women and teens.

Whether that program remains in place next year, however, remains to be seen.

Colorado health officials touted the initiative as a cornerstone reason for the precipitous drop in children born to teens ages 15 through 19 in an opening push to seek state funding during the next legislative session,

Of that demographic, birth rate dropped from 37 per every 1,000 girls in 2009 to 22 per every 1,000 in 2013, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced Thursday.

Health officials attributed three-quarters of the drop to women served by agencies administering the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, which gave or sold 30,000 intrauterine devices - also known as IUDs - at little or no cost.

The devices are implanted into the uterus and can prevent more than 99 percent of pregnancies within the first year, though they are built to last far longer than that, according to WebMD. Fertility is not affected once the device is removed.

The program began in 2009 via a $25 million grant from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, health officials said.

That funding is set to run out in June 2015, and the health department plans to seek state funding to keep the program going, said Larry Wolk, the state health department's executive director and chief medical officer.

"It tends to be a politicized issue, but if you keep it focused on the health and even the social metrics, this first and foremost can improve the health of young women and children," Wolk said.

The teen birth rate also dropped in El Paso County, which saw 23.5 girls per every 1,000 ages 15 to 19 give birth in 2012, according to the most recent data provided by the state's health department.

The prospect of voting for such a program appeared amenable to a few lawmakers reached Thursday, although many hedged their support until they knew the exact price tag.

The program's results were "very encouraging," said Bernie Herpin, R-Colorado Springs, though he said that roughly $5 million a year is an expensive request. Herpin is running for re-election against Michael Merrifield, a Democrat, in November.

Merrifield said he would likely favor such a program, though he cautioned that he needed to first look at the program's initial cost.

Wolk stressed that the initiative can ease the strain on public assistance programs such as Medicaid, which saved an estimated $42.5 million in 2010 due to the falling teen birth rate, according to an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute.

Public health officials also say children born to teens can expect higher changes of developmental delays, learning disabilities, mental health issues and obesity. They also say child abuse and neglect are more likely in those families.

Counties served by the initiative saw their teen abortion rate drop 35 percent from 2009 through 2012, the health department said.

"We always start with where everyone starts, which is the only birth control that's 100 percent is abstinence," Wolk said. "But if a young woman decides that they would like to use contraception, it's a way to remove the barrier and prevent some of those downstream social and medical costs."

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