Did Colorado contraception program reduce teen births by 40% in six years?

If you took a poll of YouthFacts writers and board members, I suspect you’d find all or nearly all (including me) are in favor of providing teenagers, like adults, with full access to contraception and quality information on sex. I view that as an absolute right, all the more so in a country with 41 states that permit adults legally to have sex with high schoolers. The fact that the large majority of what we call “teen pregnancy” involves adult partners (or rapists) is just one crucial reality that is studiously omitted from a debate about teens and sex that all sides stuff with incredible lies.

But that doesn’t mean YouthFacts thinks interests should be allowed to exploit and claim credit for trends among teenagers unless they can meet a high level of proof. When conservatives breathlessly claimed San Marcos, California’s, abstinence-only education program cut teen pregnancies by an incredible 86 percent, we were among those debunking the absurd claim.

Likewise, liberal claims that Colorado’s post-2007 program that provides free contraception to teenagers and adults caused teen births to fall by “40%” deserve scrutiny. Did it?

Here is the change in births by mothers younger than 20 in Colorado and the seven states bordering it from 2007 through 2013 as tabulated by the Centers for Disease Control:

Arizona -44%
Colorado -43%
Wyoming -42%
Utah -40%
New Mexico -38%
Kansas -33%
Nebraska -32%
Oklahoma -30%

True, Colorado does show a larger than average reduction in births to young mothers over the six-year period… but Arizona actually shows the largest decline. If Colorado’s program caused its decline in teen births, what caused similar declines in Arizona, Wyoming, Utah, and New Mexico – states that approach sex education and contraception in very different ways?

It’s not a matter of whether a contraception program is valuable (as I believe it is). The problem is that the self-promoting lies by both sides that treat teenagers as a mere commodity to advance their interests needs to stop. We need a higher ethic for talking about young people.

We certainly need to understand why teen (more correctly, adult-teen) births fell, and it’s important to know the biggest reason – not the one that serves the agendas of warring interest groups. YouthFacts will be presenting information on why births, as well as crime, gun killings, and other social ills, have fallen so dramatically in recent years across the country that fits the real trends – and it’s surprising. [Mike Males]



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