Latinas continue to face obstacles to accessing high-quality health care. We are more likely to live in areas with poor access to family planning services and less likely to have health insurance or the financial resources to be able to afford to access contraception or see a reproductive health professional. There are also specific and significant limitations to the ability of immigrant Latinos to access health information and services. As a result, we have a higher rate of unintended pregnancy.
When women can plan their pregnancies, the health outcomes are better for them and their families. That is why the continued funding for the Colorado Family Planning Initiative is so important. This program provides affordable access to long-acting and reversible contraception (LARCs) like hormonal implants and IUDs and helps to expand clinic hours and availability of care. For people who may not be able to access LARCs otherwise, this program has made a positive difference. It has helped Colorado make important strides in reducing unintended pregnancy and provided support to overcome the systemic barriers that push reproductive health care out of reach.
A report from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) shows the effectiveness of advancing access to long-acting methods. Between 40,000 and 50,000 women annually have received benefits at 75 family clinics across the state through this program with clear improvements in public health and financial stability. As a result, the number of young women facing unintended pregnancy fell by 48 percent from 2009 to 2014. Creating affordable access and availability to comprehensive sexual education, health services, and supplies to plan a pregnancy has been shown to reduce the risk of maternal death, low birth weight, and infant mortality.
Unintended pregnancy is difficult at any age, but with the stigma and lack of support that many young parents face, it is that much harder for teens. That is something that far too often gets ignored in the larger conversation around this program and other efforts to help address unplanned pregnancy. The problem is that time and again we see teen pregnancy talked about as an epidemic with young parents positioned as a scourge on our community draining resources and causing catastrophic impacts on the bottom line of the economy. This is degrading and ignores the realities of what young people facing unintended pregnancy deal with.
Often the things that get in the way of young parents are things that impact anyone with an unintended pregnancy regardless of age – the need to earn a living wage and how tough that can be, difficulty being able to balance work and family because of antiquated workplace policies, and the expense of healthcare, housing and other expenses needed to raise a family. But the fact is that we are not doing enough to support young parents. Too many schools do not provide basic accommodations and childcare programs are often set up in a way that do not meet the unique needs of students who are parenting. The rhetoric being used to push for LARCs is not making things any easier.
Let’s be super frank. Giving out IUDs will not end child abuse as some people have implied. We need to stop making it sound like young parents are more likely to hurt their children or perpetuating more of the same tried and trite rhetoric about low-income people taking our money. Too many people in our community are having a tough time getting by. Programs that ensure adequate nutrition or help with affordable housing are about healthy families and communities. This is a social good for individuals and for our state as a whole. Providing low-cost hormonal contraceptive implants won’t end poverty. This is beyond insulting to people who are barely getting by and ignores what it would actually take to address economic injustice. Poverty is caused by systemic barriers that continue to perpetuate inequality – disparate access to healthcare is just one of those issues.
Listen, we should absolutely continue to fund the Colorado Family Planning Initiative and develop other innovative ways to eliminate barriers to health information and services, but we should not advance any public health program on the backs of marginalized people. We must challenge out of touch statements about teen parents and break down systems of oppression that not only make it harder for young people when they face unintended pregnancy or decide to parent, but also make it difficult for marginalized people to care for their families and raise their child with dignity. Simply put, we can do better with our words and our actions!
Karla Gonzales Garcia is the Program and Policy Director of the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR). Karla is an immigrant from Peru. Her career spans across a range of issues and in both direct services and advocacy. She has worked on behalf of survivors of violence, young people with learning disabilities and to achieve immigrant and reproductive justice. She is dedicated to moving proactive policies to meet unique community needs.