DENVER – Republicans on a Colorado Senate committee Wednesday killed an effort to set aside money for a birth-control program that provides intrauterine devices, or IUDs, to low-income, young women.
Without funding, the program could be crippled, coming as a blow just a day after the state received a prestigious award in Washington, D.C. for the program. The National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association presented the award to Colorado on Tuesday for having the premiere public-health access program in the country.
Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, brought the award with him to the hearing, just before the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee killed the bill on a 3-2 party-line vote.
“We have the will to make this program successful,” Wolk said. “The will of the governor, the will of a number of legislators, the will of evidence-based organizations ... who say long-acting reversible contraceptives are safe and the preferred method of birth control for these young women.”
One Republican on the committee, Sen. Ray Scott of Grand Junction, actually congratulated Wolk for the award, just before opposing funding for the program.
Republican Rep. Don Coram of Montrose was disappointed to learn that the effort failed. He bucked many in his party to give the measure bipartisan support by sponsoring it in the House. Coram called it “ironic” that Scott praised the award before voting against the program.
“It is a little disappointing because I don’t think this should be a political issue,” Coram said after the vote. “This should be a policy issue. Lives do matter, and if we’re going to break the cycle of poverty, this is a very good tool.”
Scott said he is confident the program will find alternative sources of funding.
The legislation would have provided $5 million to expand the Colorado Family Planning Initiative program that health officials say lowered the teen birth rate in Colorado by an impressive 40 percent.
The program currently is funded through an anonymous grant. For it to have expanded, general fund support was requested. Supporters already are working on a backup plan to solicit additional donations.
The San Juan Basin Health Department, which includes La Plata and Archuleta counties, provided 513 long-acting reversible contraceptives since 2009. Including the other eight counties that surround Durango, a total of 3,207 contraceptives have been provided. Statewide, about 30,000 women have received the contraceptives through the program since 2009.
Supporters of the bill say it actually prevents abortions, with state health officials estimating that the program would prevent about 4,300 abortions per year. They also point out that for every $1 invested in low-cost contraception, Colorado taxpayers save about $5.85 in Medicaid costs.
IUDs act as a hormonal barrier, making it unlikely that there would be implantation of a fertilized egg. But in rare cases, the egg can become fertilized even with the device, despite it stopping the fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. That issue has driven much of the opposition to the bill, with critics saying the device induces abortion.
“Coloradans oppose the imposition of these kinds of mandates on us as individuals. There are religious reasons,” said Michael Norton, an attorney representing Colorado Family Action, who once served as the U.S. attorney for Colorado. “These contraceptives are abortifacients, that is they cause the demise of an implanted or fertilized human embryo.”