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Colorado Debates Whether IUDs Are Contraception Or Abortion

An interauterine device provides long-term birth control.
An interauterine device provides long-term birth control.

A popular contraception program in Colorado is receiving criticism from conservative lawmakers who say that the program's use of intrauterine devices, or IUDs, qualify as abortions.

More than 30,000 women in Colorado have gotten a device because of the state program, the Colorado Family Planning Initiative. An IUD normally costs between $500 and several thousand dollars. Through the program women could receive one for free.

This is because the program received a $23 million private grant in 2009 that has covered all its costs until now. To keep going, a group of bipartisan lawmakers are trying to push a bill through the Colorado Senate. But they're running into problems because of restrictions on what the state can and cannot fund.

State health director Larry Wolk says that the program has largely been a success. "Our teen birth rate has dropped 40 percent over the last four years," says Wolk. "The decline in teen births has been accompanied by a 34 percent drop in abortions among teens." A study published in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health credited the changes to the free contraceptives.

Fewer abortions should mean success for liberals and conservatives alike, right? That's what Republican state representative Don Coram, who's sponsoring the bill, thinks. He says that the program saves state money because it decreases the number of births Medicaid covers and lowers the state's enrollment in welfare. "If you're anti-abortion and also a fiscal conservative, I think this is a win-win situation for you," Coram says.

But not everyone agrees, because of how IUDs function. Most of the time an IUD prevents sperm from meeting an egg, and therefore prevents pregnancy. But if the egg and sperm do meet, the IUD keeps that embryo from planting itself in the uterus. In those cases, an IUD would prevent a fertilized egg from developing into a person.

"This crosses a line," says Republican Kevin Lundberg, who chairs the Senate Health Committee in Colorado. In Lundberg's view, an IUD can count as an abortion, and this makes it impossible for a program that funds IUDs to receive state funding. "The state constitution says no direct or indirect funding from the state shall go towards abortion," Lundberg says.

Private funding for the program ends in June of this year, so lawmakers have just three months to work out their differences.

Copyright 2015 CPR News