Can we learn from Colorado on teen pregnancy?

Colorado has made astonishing in-roads into dealing with teen pregnancy.

Over the past six years, Colorado has conducted one of the largest ever real-life experiments with long-acting birth control. If teenagers and poor women were offered free intrauterine devices and implants that prevent pregnancy for years, state officials asked, would those women choose them?

They did in a big way, and the results were startling. The birthrate for teenagers across the state plunged by 40 percent from 2009 to 2013, while their rate of abortions fell by 42 percent, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. There was a similar decline in births for another group particularly vulnerable to unplanned pregnancies: unmarried women under 25 who have not finished high school.

?Our demographer came into my office with a chart and said, ?Greta, look at this, we?ve never seen this before,? ? said Greta Klingler, the family planning supervisor for the public health department. ?The numbers were plummeting.?

The changes were particularly pronounced in the poorest areas of the state, places like Walsenburg, a small city in Southern Colorado where jobs are scarce and unplanned births come often to the young. Hope Martinez, a 20-year-old nursing home receptionist here, recently had a small rod implanted under the skin of her upper arm to prevent pregnancy for three years. She has big plans ? to marry, to move West, and to become a dental hygienist.

?I don?t want any babies for a while,? she said.

More young women are making that choice. In 2009, half of all first births to women in the poorest areas of the state happened before they turned 21. By 2014, half of first births did not occur until they had turned 24, a difference that advocates say gives young women time to finish their educations and to gain a foothold in an increasingly competitive job market.

?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,? said Isabel Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution. She argues in her 2014 book, ?Generation Unbound: Drifting Into Sex and Parenthood Without Marriage,? that single parenthood is a principal driver of inequality and long-acting birth control a powerful tool to prevent it.

Having a baby in your teen years sets you back in life considerably. By delaying having children and getting an education and not having to struggle improves your chances of avoiding immensely.

Teenage births have been declining nationally, but experts say the timing and magnitude of the reductions in Colorado are a strong indication that the state?s program was a major driver. About one-fifth of women ages 18 to 44 in Colorado now use a long-acting method, a substantial increase driven largely by teenagers and poor women.

The surge in Colorado has far outpaced the growing use of such methods nationwide. About 7 percent of American women ages 15 to 44 used long-acting birth control from 2011 to 2013, the most recent period studied, up from 1.5 percent in 2002. The figures include all women, even those who were pregnant or sterilized. The share of long-acting contraception users among just women using birth control is likely to be higher.

It is worth investigating surely?

Women?s health advocates contend that long-acting birth control is giving American women more say over when ? and with whom ? they have children. About half of the 6.6 million pregnancies a year in the United States are unintended. Teenage births may be down, but unplanned births have simply moved up the age scale, Ms. Sawhill said, and having a baby before finishing college can be just as risky to a woman?s future as having one while in high school.

Definite benefits to adopting such a policy and scheme. Far better health consequences too than continued abortions, or repeated pregnancies.

Colorado?s program, funded by a private grant from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation, named for the billionaire investor Warren Buffett?s late wife, was the real-world version of a research study in St. Louis, (also paid for by the foundation, which does not publicly acknowledge its role) that came to the same conclusion: Women overwhelmingly chose the long-acting methods, and pregnancy and abortion rates plunged.

?The difference in effectiveness is profound,? said Dr. Jeffrey Peipert, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University in St. Louis, who ran the study. The failure rate for the pill was about 5 percent, compared with less than 1 percent for implants and IUDs.

The methods are effective because, unlike the pill, a diaphragm orcondoms, they do not require a woman to take action to work. And while an early incarnation, the Dalkon Shield introduced in the 1970s, had disastrous results, the modern devices are safe and have been increasingly promoted by doctors. Last fall, the American Academy of Pediatricspublished guidelines that for the first time singled them out as a ?first-line? birth control option for adolescents, citing their ?efficacy, safety and ease of use.?

Perhaps there is something indeed that we can learn from Colorado.

– NY Times

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