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Is birth control the key to ending poverty?

When I think of Colorado, images of beautiful sceneries, snowy ski slopes and (legalized) marijuana come to mind. However, these days Colorado makes me think about a revolution in female empowerment, too.

For the past 6 years, Colorado has provided teens and women living in the poorest parts of the state with free long-acting birth control. That’s right, FREE intrauterine devices and implants that normally cost up to $900 USD.

So why not distribute the pill instead? Long-term birth control methods have lower failure rates than oral contraceptives and require less day-to-day maintenance. Pills can be misplaced or forgotten, but internal devices function consistently.

Is birth control the key- Wiki Commons- Body 1.jpgAn image of an IUD.
Image: Wikimedia Commons

So, since 2009, Colorado has outfitted 30,000 women with free intrauterine devices or implants. Saying that this program was effective would be an understatement.

Prior to implementation, half of all first births to the poorest women in Colorado occurred before they reached the age of 21. By 2014, just five years after the availability of free long-term birth control, this number increased to 24 years of age. That is an astounding change for such a short period of time.

Can waiting three years to have a child really make that much difference to a young mother? ABSOLUTELY.

“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 want to,” said Brookings Institution economist Isabel Sawhill. She’s right.

Is birth control the key- Flickr- Ernesto Andrade- Body 2.jpgImage: Flickr- Ernesto Andrade

By waiting to have a child, an impoverished woman has the opportunity to finish her education and start a career. This increases a woman’s total salary earnings in the long-run, increasing the chance she has of escaping poverty. Moreover, planned pregnancies correlate with reduced rates of maternal depression and anxiety.

The beauty of family planning is that children benefit just as much as their mothers. Research indicates that family planning produces kids that are more physically, emotionally, and academically developed later in life. A mother can create a solid foundation for her child’s growth just by planning her pregnancy.

Is birth control the key- flickr- Mark Harrington= Body 3.jpgImage: Flickr- Mark Harrington

While providing free birth control so clearly empowers both mothers and children, it comes at a price. Colorado’s program is funded by a $23.5 million USD grant from the Susan Thompson Buffet Foundation, but the money is dwindling. The Colorado legislature voted against setting more funding aside to continue the program, and many women will have difficulty obtaining long-term birth control under their insurance plans alone. It would be a loss to see this initiative lose funding and fizzle when clear progress is being made.

While critics argue that rates of teenage births have been decreasing nationally anyways, Colorado jumped ten spots up the US ranking for lowest teen birth rates in record time. Family planning is a crucial aspect of eradicating extreme poverty, and the world could learn a lot from one US state’s successful initiative to empower girls, women, and their children.

Make sure the world protects the rights of girls and women by signing the petition in TAKE ACTION NOW.