DENVER – Republican Rep. Don Coram of Montrose is at odds with members of his own party after co-sponsoring a measure that would fund long-acting contraceptives for low-income women.
The measure, House Bill 1194, was introduced on Friday, despite cries that the legislation funds devices that induce abortion.
The issue has become a battle of science, with doctors arguing that there is little evidence to indicate that intrauterine devices, IUDs, cause abortion.
Coram’s bipartisan legislation, which he is carrying with Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder, would provide $5 million from the state general fund to continue a program that health officials say lowered the teen birth rate in Colorado by 40 percent.
The program was funded by an anonymous grant. But for the Colorado Family Planning Initiative to continue, state support is needed.
“If we can do this, make lives better for these young people, save the state of Colorado millions of dollars and prevent abortions, tell me what’s wrong with that?” Coram asked.
He said estimates indicate that a statewide program would save 4,300 abortions and tens-of-millions of public welfare dollars that are spent annually on teen and unwanted births.
Coram also spoke of the emotional and educational toll teen pregnancies can have, pointing out that by age 30, only 1.5 percent of teens who become pregnant obtain a school degree.
“If you are against abortions and you are a fiscal conservative, you better take a long hard look at this bill because that accomplishes both of those,” Coram said.
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 woman have received the contraceptives through the program since 2009.
But Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, said IUDs at times cause abortion, suggesting that funding for the program is illegal in Colorado.
The long-acting reversible contraceptives prevent pregnancy by stopping egg fertilization. But in rare cases, the egg can become fertilized even with the device. It still, however, stops the fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.
But Lundberg said the device was designed to be a mechanical impediment to implantation.
“Now, they’re trying to cook up this notion that that’s completely irrelevant, and I’m not denying that there could be some contraceptive capacity for the mechanism, but I’ve looked at enough of the scientific analysis on it to say I don’t see hard science, I see political science being applied,” Lundberg said.
“I’m glad that there’s finally some discussion over a very little-known aspect of devices that are used to prevent the birth of a live baby,” he said.
But a long line of doctors are lining up to challenge the perspective that IUDs cause abortion. Dr. Larry Wolk, executive director and chief medical officer for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, pointed out that 99 percent of the time IUDs act as a hormonal barrier, making it unlikely that there would be implantation of a fertilized egg.
He said the program simply offers options that make sense for young women who may not reliably remember to take a pill form of contraception.
“This is really where the heart of the matter is when it comes to long-acting reversible contraception. It’s a safe and easy, convenient way to have reliable birth control, taking much of the human factor out,” Wolk said.
He added that unwanted and unintended pregnancies in teens often result in babies being born premature, as well as risks of neglect and abuse later in the child’s life.
“I am worried about people with political and personal views who are in elected positions masquerading those as medical or health views,” Wolk said.
Dr. Marje Cristol, a Durango family physician with 20 years experience working with adolescents, said the value of the program to young women is unprecedented.
“My role is to interact with patients on a personal level, so I know what a difference a choice like this makes to a young woman,” Cristol said. “The lives that it impacts in such a positive way makes me feel so strongly about it.”