Teen pregnancy plummets in Colorado after state provides access to long-acting birth control

Colorado has reduced its teenage birth rate and abortion rate by over 40 percent by providing free access to long-acting birth control. Unwed women under the age of 25 who haven’t completed high school also saw a 25 percent decrease in birth rate.

While The New York Times described the declines as  a “startling” development, we really shouldn’t be that surprised. If you want to reduce the rate of unplanned pregnancies, the solution isn’t to tell people to stop having sex — a practice that our federal government still, inexplicably, pays people to conduct. Instead, the solution is to give women greater control over their reproductive cycle, both through adequate sexual education and adequate access to contraception.

What’s more, when women are given more control over whether to have children, they are able to make other economic choices that having a child would preclude. From the Times:

IUD, via Shutterstock

IUD, via Shutterstock

In 2009, half of all first births to women in the poorest areas of the state happened before they turned 21. By 2014, half of first births did not occur until they had turned 24, a difference that advocates say gives young women time to finish their educations and to gain a foothold in an increasingly competitive job market.

“If we want to reduce poverty, one of the simplest, fastest and cheapest things we could do would be to make sure that as few people as possible become parents before they actually want to,” said Isabel Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution.

The benefits of expanded access to long-acting birth control aren’t limited to the women themselves. The state health department estimated that Colorado has saved $5.85 in Medicaid expenditures for every dollar spent on the program (which was privately funded through a grant from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation).

In other words, the data show that access to long-acting birth control is a social winner (fewer abortions without restrictions on choice), an economic winner (greater educational attainment) and a budgetary winner (lower public health care costs). The only reason to oppose it is fi you remain committed to the idea that young people can be scolded into not having sex.

Ask Texas how that’s working out.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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