Fund LARC

The Durango Herald

Colorado lawmakers have a chance to correct an error and help some of the most vulnerable among us by way of a program that has been proven both to work and to be cost effective. They should jump at it, that combination does not arise all that often.

At issue is a funding request from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment for more than $2.5 million for family planning services, including long-acting reversible contraceptives. The request is couched in those terms because in addition to long-acting reversible contraceptives – or LARC – the money would also go to preventive health counseling and education, health testing, screenings and referrals. Bundling those services is also thought to make it more difficult for uncooperative lawmakers to cut funding specifically for long-acting reversible contraceptives.

Why they might want to is a mystery. The efficacy of long-acting reversible contraceptives has been proven – dramatically so. At first the LARC program was funded by the Susan Thompson Buffet Foundation, named for Warren Buffet’s wife after her death in 2004. That funding allowed the program to demonstrate its effectiveness.

Between 2009 and 2014, Colorado’s teen birth rate was cut in half, largely through a statewide program that provided teens with long-acting reversible contraceptives. According to the San Juan Basin Health Department, that effort was so successful that the teen birth rate in La Plata and Archuleta counties dropped by 67 percent. The department has provided 587 long-acting reversible contraceptives since 2009.

That is huge, not only for the affected teens, but for their families, their schools, their neighborhoods and their communities. Preventing teen pregnancies also has meaningful benefits for state and local governments and social agencies. Beyond the social and emotional toil pregnancy can have on a teenager, a teen who stays in school and on track for college or the job market is a major economic win for society.

A program with results as pronounced and as positive as funding for long-acting reversible contraceptives has shown should have universal support. Instead, LARC funding became embroiled in politics last year and a bill that would have set aside $5 million for LARC funding died.

Whether that opposition was simply party politics, a reflexive opposition to anything concerning women’s health or a heartfelt if mistaken conviction that long-acting reversible contraceptives somehow cause abortions is unclear. Most of the opposition came from Republicans and backing from Democrats, which suggests politics was the basis. Perhaps with other issues now tied to LARC funding Colorado lawmakers can get beyond all that.

(Rep. Don Coram, R-Montrose – and whose district includes Cortez – deserves recognition for ignoring the political maneuvering last year and cosponsoring the legislation to add the $5 million. Would that more legislators had his courage.)

It is hard to think of another government program that works so well, and that offers such clear and consistent proof of its success. Nor is it easy to imagine any effort that can have such dramatic and positive an effect on young women’s lives. And, its critics should note, it should even reduce the number of abortions.

In the world of government, spending $2.5 million is a pittance. And there are few more productive ways to spend it.