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Short-Sighted Thinking Undermines Progress on Reproductive Rights in the U.S. and Overseas

Analysis Haley Nicholson, Legislative Analyst

This week marks the 43rd Anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. At the core of the decision is a woman’s self-determination and her ability to access a full range of reproductive health care including safe and legal abortion. In recent years, at the state and federal level, repeated attempts have been made to chip away at Roe v. Wade and severely limit access to affordable reproductive health care. This fight has now broadened to access to birth control. Those advocating for ending abortion in all cases often do not support access to many forms of modern contraceptives including long-acting ones. A prime example of this struggle can be found in Colorado.

In 2009 Colorado began an initiative to provide long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) to young women throughout the state. The initial $27 million in funding for the pilot program was provided by the Susan Thompson Buffet Foundation and administered in partnership with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). The success of the program has been unprecedented, providing over 30,000 Intrauterine Devices (IUDS) and implants to women in Colorado. Data from the CDPHE has also shown “the state teen unintended pregnancy rate has dropped 40 percent and the abortion rate is down 35 percent from 2009 to 2013, after the program was launched.”

As a Colorado native from a small town I have been thrilled to see the progress of this program. Many see Colorado as a fun-loving place with some of the best outdoor activity in the world. While that is one side of the Centennial State there is also a vastly different reality for many young women.  In many of Colorado’s rural communities, access to reproductive health services is limited, schools cannot provide comprehensive sexual education, and cultural stigma holds women back from asking about a full range of reproductive health options. This program has changed that reality for many of them, resulting in better educational and economic opportunities. Now, the Buffet funding has come to an end and the state faces its next battle, ideological roadblocks.

Despite getting bipartisan support from two Colorado State Representatives in 2015 to secure future funding for the program, the proposal ultimately failed. If this scenario sounds familiar it’s because this same fight is happening in our Nation’s capital. Every year in Washington D.C. reproductive health advocates fight to secure level funding for U.S. funded international family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) programming, despite the continual successes of programs.

In fiscal year 2015 funding for international FP/RH made it possible for:

From Colorado to Cambodia, investments in reproductive health programs including LARCs are saving the lives of women, helping couples choose the family size they want, averting unintended pregnancies and abortions, and reducing maternal deaths. Sadly, this evidence still isn’t enough to convince some policymakers. Outdated notions of what an IUD does to a woman’s body or the idea that access to these contraceptives “promotes promiscuity” among younger populations stands in the way of real progress.

A woman’s reproductive health options shouldn’t be held back by the misconceptions of policymakers—or the organizations pressuring them to restrict the full range of reproductive health choices, not in Colorado and not anywhere else in the world.

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