GOP blocks birth-control funding for low-income women

A bill to offer low-income women free long-acting reversible birth control failed on party lines in the Republican-controlled Senate kill committee, despite bipartisan efforts to save it.

Opponents of the bill worried that increasing access to birth control would not have a net public health gain because it would increase promiscuity.

“Sexually transmitted infections are costing us $16 billion a year. How are these IUDs [intrauterine devices] going to cut down on STIs? That’s what I want to know,” said Rosina Kovar, a Denver grandmother. “Are the guys going to want to use any condoms?”

Supporters said teens are having sex and that their bill was about mitigating the repercussions. The advocates suggested that the state would save at least $5 Medicaid dollars for every one of the $5 million it spent on the program. They pointed out that the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s LARC program reduced teen pregnancy in Colorado by 40 percent during the years it was privately funded.

“Undoubtedly, without this bridge funding, we will see unintended pregnancies increase,” said Dr. John Douglas, the executive director of the Tri-County Health Department, which serves Douglas, Adams and Arapahoe counties.

Appealing to conservative members of the committee, Dr. Douglas pointed out that the program also reduced abortions in counties — by 65 percent in Adams, 45 percent in Arapahoe and 70 percent in Douglas.

Amber Burkhart, the health policy fellow at Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, argued that even though the Affordable Care Act requires insurers to cover birth control at no cost to the patient, many plans are using cost loopholes to only offer the cheapest methods, thereby excluding LARCs like IUDs or implants.

“The LARC program fills a really important gap…especially for the uninsured and underinsured,” said Burkhart. She added that according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study, 275,000 women in Colorado still need better access to contraceptives.

When it came time to vote, Sen. Matt Jones, D-Louisville, was the last to make the pitch.

“This is a program that works,” said Jones. “It saves the state money and lets people move on with their lives… I’d highly urge a ‘yes’ vote for those conservative values.”

If the Republican members of the committee disagreed with Jones or shared Kovar’s concerns, they didn’t say so. Sens. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, and Jerry Sonnenberg, R- Sterling, all voted not to fund the program without public explanation.

Women’s advocates spoke in favor of the LARC program before it went to its final committee. Photo by Tessa Cheek. 

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