If and when to become pregnant is one of the most important decisions a woman or couple will make. But becoming pregnant is not always a conscious decision. About 45 percent of pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, including three out of four teen pregnancies. Access to birth control and sexual health education has a major influence on choices that can result in unplanned pregnancy. Consequences for women, their families and society are significant. Colorado spends more than $160 million in Medicaid funds on unintended pregnancy costs every year, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment.
The federal and state governments have worked for decades to provide young and low-income women and men better access to family planning services. The Title X Family Planning program enacted in 1970 helps fund this effort, providing support to states, which channel support to local organizations such as Northwest Colorado Health’s family planning program at clinics in Steamboat Springs and Craig.
Family planning focuses on helping individuals better understand their sexual and reproductive health and the importance of planning for the possibility of a family while working toward education, career and other goals. They learn about birth control options, ranging from abstinence to long-acting reversible contraception, and receive guidance deciding which method is best for their situation. Services include full health exams by a healthcare provider and, if necessary, screenings for sexually transmitted infections. The low-cost program aims to help teens before they become sexually active, but services are available to all individuals of reproductive age. Unlike other medical visits, teens can access family planning services without a parent or guardian’s knowledge or presence. All services are confidential.
“It’s very important young people know about these services,” said Gisela Garrison, director of Northwest Colorado Health’s Community Health Centers. “We have specially trained staff to answer questions and concerns and help individuals take steps to avoid unplanned pregnancy as well as sexually transmitted infections that could compromise their health and futures.”
Northwest Colorado Health’s family planning program recently expanded to include community outreach and education to help middle school and high school-age teens understand what it means to take responsibility for their sexual health and how to make safe and healthy choices. Without education, teens may not fully grasp the profound effects unintended pregnancy can have on their education and economic opportunities, health and health of their children. Fewer than 40 percent of teens who have a child before age 18 get a high school diploma. These moms are less likely to have prenatal care in the first trimester of their pregnancy increasing risk of birth defects and low birth weight. Unplanned pregnancies also are linked to higher rates of physical violence during pregnancy, maternal depression and child abuse. The cycle often continues; daughters of teen mothers are three times more likely to become teen mothers themselves, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Federally-funded family planning programs are working. More than 27,000 unintended pregnancies are prevented in Colorado each year, according to the Colorado Department of Health & Environment. Without these programs, there would be 56 percent more teen births in the state. These successes have significant economic benefits. Nationally, every dollar spent on family planning services saves $7 in Medicaid costs for pregnancy-related services and newborn care, according the Guttmacher Institute, which focuses on advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights. Parents play a key role in this progress by maintaining open lines of communication about sex-related issues with their children.
“The more your children know about reproductive and sexual health, the more likely they are to make good decisions,” Garrison said. “If you are uncomfortable talking about it, encourage them to seek information from a family planning provider and not rely on information by their peers.”
Tips for how to have these conversations with your kids are available at thenationalcampaign.org. To learn more about family planning services, call 970-879-1632 in Steamboat Springs or 970-824-8233 in Craig.