A few years ago, Gov. Rick Perry (R) sat down for an interview with Texas Tribune editor Evan Smith, who had received a number of questions from the public. One voter asked the governor, "Why does Texas continue with abstinence education programs, when they don't seem to be working?" The question was well grounded in fact: in the areas of teen pregnancies and teen births, Texas ranked among the worst in the United States.
Perry heard the question, thought for a second, and replied
, "Abstinence works."
The reporter tried again, telling the governor, "But we have the third-highest teen teen-pregnancy rate among all states in the country. The questioner's point is, it doesn't seem to be working." The governor responded
, "It -- it works."
In reality, of course, abstinence education programs don't work. But for those involved in the policy debate, to see an example of what does work, consider the recent evidence from Colorado
(thanks to my colleague Kate Osborn for the heads-up).
A state health initiative to reduce teen birth rates by providing more than 30,000 contraceptive devices at low or no cost has led to a 40 percent drop in five years, Gov. John Hickenlooper said Thursday. The Colorado Family Planning Initiative, funded by a private anonymous donor for five years, has provided intrauterine devices and other implants to low-income women at 68 family-planning clinics across Colorado since 2009. The clinics are in local health departments, hospitals and private nonprofit facilities. The program also provided training and technical assistance to family planning clinics statewide.
The Denver Post article quoted a spokesperson from the Colorado-based Focus on the Family, a former powerhouse in the religious right movement, disbelieving the data.
Instinctive denial may be understandable, but the facts are stubborn. German Lopez noted
that the state "went from the 29th lowest teen birth rate in the nation to the 19th lowest."
Hickenlooper, Colorado's Democratic governor, told reporters that the program creates "a better situation for everyone," and that extends well beyond low-income women and those close to them.
It also includes the public at large.
The program has helped thousands of young women avoid unintended pregnancy by using long-lasting, reversible contraceptives, which has reduced social and economic costs to the state, Dr. Larry Wolk, director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said during the news conference with the governor. Those costs include birth defects, low birth weight, elective abortion, maternal depression, increased risk of child abuse, lower educational attainment by mother, delayed prenatal care, high risk of physical violence against expectant mother and reduced rates of breastfeeding. The family-planning program has saved $5.68 in Medicaid costs for every dollar spent on the contraceptives, the state said. The state has saved millions in health care expenditures -- $42.5 million in public funds in 2010 alone based on the latest available data.
If Rick Perry and other conservatives genuinely want to know what "works," they should probably start here.