Colorado’s Family Planning Initiative (CFPI), which made low-cost contraceptives widely available, has been lauded as a public health success story after it drove a massive reduction in the state’s unintended pregnancy rate.
A CU Boulder study released last week brings to light another benefit of the program: a boost in high school graduation rates.
Launched in 2009 with the help of a private donor, CFPI provided low- or no-cost long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs), such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants, to low-income women statewide. The $27 million grant allowed Title X clinics to get the operational support, training, and funding required to offer highly effective contraceptives to their clients, regardless of their ability to pay.
By 2015, the program provided LARCs to over 36,000 Colorado women and cut the teen abortion rate and teen pregnancy rate in half. It also averted between $54 and $60 million in public assistance costs for births associated with unplanned pregnancies.
The study published May 5 in the journal Science Advances found a 14 percent decrease in dropout rates among Colorado women after the program was implemented. That translates to 3,800 Colorado high school students born between 1994 and 1996 who graduated because of CFPI.
Researchers say the study provides hard data to back up the claim that access to birth control allows women to achieve their educational goals, which until now was primarily supported by anecdotal evidence.
“One of the foundational claims among people who support greater access to contraception is that it improves women’s ability to complete their education and, in turn, improves their lives,” said lead author and Assistant Professor of Sociology Amanda Stevenson in a press release. “This study is the first to provide rigorous, quantitative, contemporary evidence that it’s true.”
The program led to a particularly notable increase in graduation rates for Hispanic women.
“Supporting access to contraception does not eliminate disparities in high school graduation, but we find that it can contribute significantly to narrowing them,” Stevenson said.