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Here's Proof That Giving Teens Free Birth Control Works

The results of this real-life experiment are pretty mind-blowing.

Colorado just conducted a huge, real-life birth control experiment: In 2009 they started giving teenagers and young women free access to long-acting forms of birth control, like Intrauterine Devices (or IUDs) and implants. The results?

The New York Times reports that the birthrate for teenagers went down 40%, and the rate of abortions for teens went down 42%. That is a hugely significant drop.

The experiment’s success is in part being attributed to the effectiveness of long-acting birth control. IUDs and implants tend to be more effective because there are no pills to forget, and no condoms that can break. Once they're in, they're in and working. The study found that the failure rate for IUDs and implants was less than 1%, compared with a 5% failure rate for the pill.

Depending on the method, long-acting birth control can prevent pregnancy for up to ten years. IUDs and implants are also easily reversible if and when a woman decides she does want to become pregnant. (Everyone is different, though -- this tool can help you choose the birth control method that's best for you.)

Because some early versions of IUDs that were released in the ‘70s proved dangerous, IUDs had a bad rap for a long time. Now, though, IUDs are considered one of the safest and most effective methods of birth control, especially for teenagers. Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics published guidelines that recommend IUDs and birth control implants as the “first-line contraceptive choice for adolescents who choose not to be abstinent.”

In the U.S., about half of the 6.6 million people who get pregnant every year do so unintentionally. In many states, there are so many restrictive laws that abortions can be virtually impossible to attain, especially for teenagers. This makes having access to reliable birth control even more critical for young women.

In Colorado, according to the New York Times, "In 2009, half of all first births to women in the poorest areas of the state happened before they turned 21. By 2014, half of first births did not occur until they had turned 24, a difference that advocates say gives young women time to finish their educations and to gain a foothold in an increasingly competitive job market."

“If we want to reduce poverty, one of the simplest, fastest and cheapest things we could do would be to make sure that as few people as possible become parents before they actually want to,” Isabel Sawhill, an economist at the Brookings Institution, told the New York Times.

It makes sense -- babies cost an estimated $12,000 per year in their first year of life, and up to $12,500 per year after that. The average cost of childcare in the U.S. is $972 per month, and nearly one third of single-mother households live below the poverty line.

The effectiveness of long-acting birth control not only changed the economic outlook for women and teenage girls in Colorado; it also saved the state government money. The state health department estimated that they saved $5.85 for every dollar they invested in the program, and that the state saved between $49 million and $111 million in birth-related Medicaid costs.

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Although Obamacare was supposed to guarantee that all health insurance plans must cover all available methods of birth control, some plans have been violating that rule by charging expensive co-pays or altogether refusing to pay for certain types of birth control. In May, the Obama administration notified health insurance companies that they are breaking the law in an effort to stop this practice.

Additionally, the New York Times reports that "only new plans are required to provide free contraception, so women on plans that predate the law may not qualify," and notes that up to a quarter of all women have plans that pre-date the law. Without insurance coverage, long-acting birth control like IUDs and implants can cost something like $800 - $900.

Even if Obamacare is fixed, though, teenagers using their parents' health insurance are oftentimes hesitant to take advantage of the coverage when they don't want their parents to know that they're using birth control. Colorado's wildly successful experiment proves that reducing the rates of teen pregnancies and teen abortions could be simple: Providing young women with unrestricted access to free, long-acting forms of birth control has the power to be revolutionary.

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