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Improve birth control access in Virginia

The legislature should make McAuliffe’s proposal a priority

Earlier this month Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam announced Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s proposed program to provide women who have little or no health insurance with free, long-lasting birth control. Under the proposal, a $9 million federal grant would cover intrauterine devices, or IUDs, and skin implants.

Preventing teen pregnancy should be an apolitical issue: the fewer teenagers become pregnant, the fewer abortions become necessary — a goal pro-life and pro-choice advocates likely share. Access to birth control can lower the rates of unplanned pregnancies, thereby lowering abortion rates. A 2009 privately funded program in Colorado similar to McAuliffe’s proposal led to a 40 percent decline in the birthrate among teens in just four years, and, according to the Colorado governor’s office, saved the state $42.5 million in health care expenditures associated with teens giving birth. Alongside this, in the past six years, Colorado saw a 42 percent decline in teen abortions.

Long-lasting birth control such as IUDs and implants can last up to 10 years and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are the most effective forms of birth control, with fewer than 1 pregnancy per 100 women in a year. Such forms of birth control can also be more cost-effective due to their longevity.

For women either without health insurance or whose health insurance does not cover every type of contraceptive due to loopholes in the Affordable Care Act, the cost of long-acting, reversible contraceptives is roughly $800. Since an estimated 14.3 percent of Virginians — totaling 995,000 people — under the age of 65 lacked health insurance in 2012, this is likely a problem for many Virginia women.

The proposal follows former Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s decision to cut funding for teen pregnancy prevention programs in 2011. Though well-intended, the programs only served less than 5,000 Virginians in 2010. McAuliffe’s proposal has the potential to help many more people.

Thus, this proposal is a step in the right direction in ensuring access to birth control for women who need it. It is also of no cost to the state, as the program relies on federal funds — though the legislature will, of course, have to approve the program in this year’s legislative session. Approving it should be a no-brainer — combating teen pregnancy is something we can all support.


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