The XX Factor

Free IUD Programs Work. Why Are Conservatives Opposed To Them?

Colorado’s experiment with long-acting birth control has been a stunning success.

On Monday, the New York Times published a lengthy report on the smashing success of a six-year plan to offer long-acting contraception, such as implants or the IUD, free of charge to any low-income woman or teen who wanted them. Funded by outside donors, the program has been a tremendous success, lowering the teen birth rate by 40 percent between 2009 to 2013. The abortion rate for teenagers fell by 42 percent.

“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,” Sabrina Tavernise writes. The program is credited with helping a huge number of young women wait until they’re a little older to have children, giving them time to finish their education and get a foothold in the working world first. 

I’ve been touting this program for awhile now, but unfortunately, the money has run out. The hope was that the state legislature would help the young women of Colorado to live better, more economically successful lives by voting to fund the program itself. However, the Republican-run legislature decided against it. The official reason: The program is redundant now that Obamacare offers “free” birth control.

That excuse has some holes in it, starting with the fact that Obamacare does not offer free birth control. Obamacare requires that insurance plans cover birth control without a copay, but you either have to buy the insurance or earn it as an employment benefit in order to get that coverage. A lot of the women and girls who are eligible for the Colorado program don’t have insurance. There are additional obstacles for teens who want the IUD. “Advocates also worry that teenagers — who can get the devices at clinics confidentially — may be less likely to get the devices through their parents’ insurance,” Tavernise writes. 

The real issue here is that opponents of accessible birth control want to keep sex dangerous, in the hope that danger will discourage girls and women from having sex. This was clear in the debate over the program’s funding. “I hear the stories of young girls who are engaged, very prematurely, in sexual activity, and I see firsthand the devastation that happens to them,” Republican state Rep. Kathleen Conti argued. “I’m not accrediting this directly to this program, but I’m saying, while we may be preventing an unwanted pregnancy, at the same time, what are the emotional consequences that could be coming up on the other side?”

Colorado isn’t the only state where people are anxious that IUDs might be just too good at preventing teen pregnancy. As Media Matters reported today, controversy is flaring over a Seattle program that allows teen girls to get IUDs and implants from a school-based health center. Fox News’ coverage called long-acting contraception “invasive birth control” while host Jedediah Bila called it “an overreach in schools.” Breitbart scared readers about “serious side effects” and warned that the IUDs are “free of charge and free of parental consent.”

Interestingly, a talking point in both the Townhall and Fox News coverage was that it’s outrageous that kids can’t buy sodas at school but they can get IUDs. What is this world coming to when we try to help our kids avoid sugary crap and unwanted pregnancies? Next you’re going to tell me that we also want them to wash their hands and wear seatbelts.