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Republicans block extension of a lauded birth-control program

In the waning days of the 2015 Colorado General assembly, Senate Republicans killed a bill to fund expansion of a family-planning program that's helped the state's teen pregnancy rate plunge by 40 percent, and also reduced abortions.

Helping accomplish this was Sen. Owen Hill, R-Colorado Springs, who didn't return a phone call or an email asking why he opposed House Bill 1194, which would have cost taxpayers $5 million to pick up where a grant-funded program leaves off. The bill would have helped expand the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment's Family Planning Initiative, which provides long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) methods to low-income and uninsured women to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies.

The day before April 29's indefinite postponement of the bill on a party-line 3-2 vote by the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, the program was hailed as a model for providing public health access by the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, the Durango Herald reported.

According to the bill's legislative summary, the initiative received a multi-year $23 million grant in 2009 to expand LARC services. At the time, 1 in 170 young, low-income women in Colorado had received an IUD or implant. By 2011, the ratio was 1 in 15, the summary says.

Sponsored by Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder, the bill would have funded services to about 5,555 women, including some in the Pikes Peak region. (CDPHE spokesman Mark Salley says the El Paso County Health Department and Children's Hospital have provided program services. The Health Department provided 206 LARCs in the last two years.) But Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, wrote in a Denver Post op-ed that Colorado no longer needs the program due to the advent of the Affordable Care Act and the state's expansion of Medicaid. "I have grave doubts," he wrote, "that we can make a further impact on the teen birth rate or number of abortions performed in Colorado by funding a voluntary contraception program with public dollars."

The House approved the bill by a vote of 37-26 on April 20, with help from local Reps. Pete Lee, a Democrat, and Republican Kit Roupe.

"This is a proven program," says Roupe in an interview. "This is a good way of handling unwanted teen pregnancies, and helping young women grow up to be strong, active members of our community and keeping them from the realms of poverty."

Voting against the bill were local Republicans Terri Carver, Janak Joshi, Gordon Klingenschmitt, Lois Landgraf, Paul Lundeen and Dan Nordberg.

The bill's demise surprised Corrine Rivera-Fowler, with the Colorado Organization of Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights. "It lowers the teen pregnancy rate. It lowers the abortion rate," she says. "If you want less spending on [social] programs, it does that," by reducing teen moms' reliance on Medicaid.

Grant money runs out June 30. Larry Wolk, CDPHE executive director, says private funders will have to keep the initiative afloat after that. "We won't have the money," he says, "to expand the program to provide training to more providers and clinics and to provide more IUDs to folks who don't have insurance."

Rivera-Fowler says advocates hope to propose a similar bill in 2016.

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