Steamboat Springs Northwest Colorado women who struggle to afford long-lasting birth control devices could now receive the products at no charge, thanks to a new Steamboat Springs women’s group.
Focus on Women was created during the winter with a goal of addressing gaps in service for women’s health, and the group quickly chose to focus on access to expensive, long-lasting birth control as its first project, according to Kathleen Wasserman, one of the group’s organizers.
“A group of my friends and I were talking about what we could do for women in Steamboat, and really, we were focused on women’s health care,” Wasserman said.
After meeting with local nonprofits and health care providers — including Northwest Colorado Health, Planned Parenthood and Yampa Valley Medical Center — the women continued to hear about a recent Colorado project that provided private funding for women to receive long-acting, reversible contraception, including intrauterine devices, or IUDs, and hormonal implants.
Though the devices can cost $1,000 or more, they provide long-acting birth control for 4 to 12 years and can be removed when a woman chooses to become pregnant.
If you go:
What: Choose When presentation, talk with Brookings Institution senior fellow Isabel Sawhill
When: 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 15
Where: Bud Werner Memorial Library, Library Hall, 1289 Lincoln Ave.
The Colorado Family Planning Initiative, a program that ran from 2009 to 2014, provided long-acting, reversible contraceptives to women free, but ended when private funding was exhausted.
While the program ran, Colorado saw a 48-percent decline in the birth rate for women age 15 to 19 and a 58-percent drop in teens giving birth for a second or third time. Additionally, the abortion rate fell by 48 percent in women age 15 to 19, and infant enrollment in state food assistance dropped by 26 percent.
“The statistics that came out of that program were remarkable,” Wasserman said. “It was a homerun.”
However, since the program ended, women have again begun to struggle with affording long-acting birth control, leading many to instead go without or to use less-expensive, and often, less-effective, forms of birth control, such as birth control pills.
“There is no question there’s a need,” Wasserman said.
On Wednesday, Focus on Women will hold its first public meeting, which will include a talk by Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Isabel Sawhill.
Sawhill, a part-time Steamboat resident who also lives in Washington, D.C., has conducted research and written a book, “Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage,” which explores unplanned pregnancies and the effect they have on families and children.
“The book is about the very dramatic changes in the American family that have occurred in the last 40 years or so, including the growth of single parents, driven by childbearing outside of marriage” Sawhill said. “Most of those births to unmarried women are unplanned by the woman, herself, and a huge fraction of them are poor, and they and their children have very limited life prospects.”
Sawhill said she uses data and research to argue in the book that one way to reduce poverty and improve the prospects for less-advantaged families is to prevent unplanned pregnancies.
Sawhill said she supports Choose When and the efforts of the Focus on Women group.
“I think it’s really terrific that a group of local women are really rolling up their sleeves and trying to raise the resources and help a group that needs help,” Sawhill said. “I’m blown away by what they’ve accomplished already.”
Wasserman said the group has taken off quickly, in part, due to strong support from community organizations, particularly Northwest Colorado Health.
Northwest Colorado Health will serve as administrator of the program and be the entity disbursing funding to providers who offer the birth control devices.
Wasserman said she expects funding to be available for local women within the next few weeks and directed women with questions to contact Northwest Colorado Health.
Moving forward, Wasserman said the Focus on Women group hopes to meet publicly a few times each year to discuss issues effecting women and plan new projects.
To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow