ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
A Colorado program that supplies low-income women with contraception is being credited with a major drop in the state's abortion rate. But funding for the program is being challenged by some conservative lawmakers. As Megan Verlee of Colorado Public Radio reports, they don't like the type of birth control being offered.
LAURISA RODRIGUES: This is actually - where did it go? This is kind of our demo for the IUD.
MEGAN VERLEE: Health educator Laurisa Rodrigues digs through a box of medical equipment in her office at the Pueblo Health Department's Family Planning Clinic. She pulls out a slightly battered-looking intrauterine device and a plastic model of the female anatomy.
RODRIGUES: So I kind of just go over that, you know, when you come in this is what happens. Jan will insert that, it goes in your uterus, you know...
VERLEE: Pueblo County fits around six women a week with free IUDs. Over the last five years, more than 30,000 women in Colorado have gotten the devices thanks to a state program. It provides counties with long-acting, reliable contraception - implants and IUDs - and trains clinic staff on how to administer them. According to state health director Larry Wolk, the results have been dramatic.
LARRY WOLK: Our teen birth rate has dropped 40 percent over the last four years. The decline in teen births has been accompanied by a 34 percent drop in abortions amongst teens.
VERLEE: Wolk was testifying in support of public funding for the contraception program. A private grant covered all the costs up until now, but that money is running out. So a bipartisan group of lawmakers want the state to keep the effort going. Republican Representative Don Coram is sponsoring the bill.
DON CORAM: If you're anti-abortion and also a fiscal conservative, I think this is a win-win situation for you.
VERLEE: Coram says the program will save the state money from fewer Medicaid-covered births and lower welfare enrollment. But his support of the program puts him on a collision course with some other abortion opponents in his party. Republican Kevin Lundberg chairs the Senate Health Committee, which is likely to consider the bill.
KEVIN LUNDBERG: Article V, section 50 of the Colorado constitution says no direct or indirect funding from the state shall go towards abortion. This crosses the line.
VERLEE: The line Lundberg is talking about is when life begins. Generally an IUD prevents sperm from meeting egg, but if that fails, it can keep a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. To the medical community, that stops a pregnancy before it can start. Many in the anti-abortion movement believe life begins at the moment of fertilization. So, Lundberg says anything after that that prevents a fertilized egg from continuing to develop counts as an abortion.
LUNDBERG: The IUD is a mechanical device that makes it an impossible environment for a young child to implant in the uterine wall.
VERLEE: In recent years, some in the anti-abortion movement have shifted their tactics from trying to outlaw abortion directly to defining the beginning of life, and that has changed the anti-abortion conversation. Mississippi College law professor Jonathan Will studies personhood laws.
JONATHAN WILL: Because the language is drafted broadly, you got much more discussion about these more specific issues regarding everything ranging from contraception to IVF.
VERLEE: And for some abortion opponents in Colorado, that discussion is now focused on whether they can live with more women using contraception they object to if the result is fewer abortions. For NPR News, I'm Megan Verlee in Denver.
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