Improving women’s lives |

Improving women’s lives

Sharp, stabbing pain lanced through my abdomen, causing me to double over as I grit my teeth and muttered unprintable obscenities. After the birth of my son, these pains routinely plagued me. After a few months of hoping they would go away on their own I finally sought a doctor’s opinion. Eventually, several doctors weighed in on the probable cause of my distress. One sent me for a colonoscopy. I lived in Shanghai at the time, which meant my procedure was performed in a Chinese hospital. I have preserved that episode of my life in a chapter of my memoir titled “Up the Yin Yang.” Another doctor suggested the removal my uterus since that was “probably” the cause of my pain. I no longer intended to use my uterus, but that did not mean I was ready to kick it to the curb. Good thing, because the next doctor I saw proclaimed my uterus perfectly healthy.

Having been cramp-free for most of my life, I had not considered that these pains were cramps from my cycle and neither did any of the doctors I saw. I visited three doctors, and not one recommended changing my birth control. In fact, one doctor actively discouraged my interest in an intrauterine device when I expressed the desire to get one. I ignored him, went to another doctor and had a Mirena IUD installed. At the time, it was not covered by insurance so I paid for it myself. When it expired five years later I had it replaced with another. I have now been cramp-free for eight years.

I am oversharing to address the belief in some circles that government-mandated birth control coverage is somehow tantamount to government sponsorship of sexual activity. While lambasting the insurance requirement to cover birth control, radio personality Rush Limbaugh, who was apprehended with bootleg Viagra in 2006, opined, “Women wouldn’t have a problem if they didn’t do a certain thing.” Yes, birth control prevents conception in women who are having, gasp, sex with men. But for many women it does so much more. The IUD gave me back several days a month when I was previously experiencing debilitating pain. Birth control is not only for birth prevention; it also improves women’s lives.

But let’s return to birth control’s primary purpose, preventing unwanted pregnancies. How is that a bad thing? Preventing unwanted pregnancies benefits not only women but also society in general by helping to break the cycle of poverty.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “By age 22, only around 50 percent of teen mothers have received a high school diploma whereas 90 percent of women who did not give birth during adolescence receive a high school diploma.”

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Furthermore, “children born to teen mothers have a higher risk for low birth weight and infant mortality, have higher rates of foster care placement, have lower school achievement and drop out of high school.”

But shouldn’t we be preaching abstinence to young people? Ample peer-reviewed evidence confirms abstinence-only sex education programs do not change attitudes or behavior. In fact, all they seem to do is discourage contraceptive use. Unfortunately, between 1991 and 1994, $94.5 million in federal and state funds were spent on ineffectual abstinence-only programs.

Colorado had a program that did work. In 2009 Colorado received funding from the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation to support the Colorado Family Planning Initiative. The CFPI provided long-acting reversible contraceptive methods for no or low cost to low-income women, primarily IUDs and implants. By any measure the program was a tremendous success. According to Gov. Hickenlooper’s website:

“The teen birth rate in Colorado dropped 40 percent from 2009 through 2013.”

“The teen abortion rate dropped 35 percent from 2009 to 2012 in those counties served by the initiative.”

“The infant caseload for Colorado WIC fell 23 percent from 2008 to 2013.”

“Colorado saved millions in health care expenditures associated with teen births, $42.5 million in public funds in 2010 alone.”

Unfortunately the seed money runs out in June. And now the state, which has realized savings in the tens of millions of dollars as a result of this program, needed to contribute a mere $5 million annually to keep the program going. Don Coram, a Republican representative from Montrose, and K.C. Becker, a Democrat from Boulder, sponsored a bill to do just that. The Coram-Becker Bill passed in the House but faced staunch opposition in the Senate. It was killed April 29 by the Republican-controlled Senate State Affairs Committee.

Recently, Vince Emmer lamented in this space the wasted tax dollars spent on government programs that fail to assist program recipients. And yet, here was a program Colorado reaped tangible benefits from, and for five years it did not cost the state a dime. When asked to spend a little to reap wide-ranging benefits in particular for young women, the Senate State Affairs committee, all male, refused.

Claire Noble is the author of “State-Sponsored Sex and Other Tales of International Misadventure.” She can be reached at or follow her on Twitter @thehkhousewife.

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