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RBC | An unintended pregnancy can derail a woman’s plans for her education, career, financial stability and future success regardless of age, marital status, or employment at the time of conception. According to information from the Colorado Department of Public Health, 35.9 percent of all pregnancies in Colorado are unintended (mistimed, unplanned or unwanted at the time of conception.) Unintended pregnancies result in approximately 10,000 abortions in Colorado each year, many among teens and younger women.
From 2009-2014, the privately funded Colorado Family Planning Initiative offered long-acting, reversible contraceptives (LARCs) to women for free. During that time, there was a 48% decline in teen birth rates, a 58% drop in teens having second or third babies. The abortion rate dropped by 48% in women age 15-19.
The initiative’s dramatic statistics made national news, and it was considered widely successful in reducing the number of abortions and unplanned pregancies, but the program came to an end in 2014 when private funding ran out.
In 2017 in Northwest Colorado, seeing an ongoing need, another private group launched a grassroots effort — Choose When — to provide free birth control to women, partnering with Northwest Colorado Health, Planned Parenthood, the Northwest Colorado Community Health Partnership and Rio Blanco County Public Health to administer the program.
Choose When funds LARCs, like IUDs and hormonal implants — contraception that can’t be misplaced, used incorrectly or forgotten — to women in Northwest Colorado who can’t otherwise afford it. The LARCs are removable when the woman is ready to start a family.
All women of all ages are eligible for the program, and for the uninsured, services are free of charge. Federal protections for minors — services can’t be denied to those 12 and up — are followed under Colorado law.
Other women’s health services are also available through Rio Blanco County Public Health’s family planning clinic, including other forms of contraception besides LARCs, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, physical exams including breast and cervical cancer screening, and pregnancy testing.
A large part of the Choose When program surrounds education about LARCs. Women have traditionally gravitated toward birth control pills and condoms, which are less reliable than LARCs.
“There’s a huge lack of knowledge about LARCs, and a lot of fear with the unknown,” said steering committee member Adrienne Southworth. Old information about the safety of IUDs can cause stigma for women. “There are many different types and varieties now,” Southworth said.
In Rio Blanco County, the program has seen more participation in the Rangely area, probably due to the college population. “We’re meeting them where they’re at,” said former RBC Public Health Nurse Sarah Coker. “They’re advocating for themselves.”
By NIKI TURNER – firstname.lastname@example.org