By Patty Nieberg, The Associated Press/Report for America
A Colorado bill would provide free contraceptives and reproductive care to people living in the U.S. illegally.
The legislation, heard by the House Health and Insurance committee Wednesday, aims to create a reproductive health care program within the state health department to provide contraceptives, management of birth control products or devices and counseling to people who do not qualify for Medicaid because of their citizenship or immigration status.
Democratic Rep. Yadira Caraveo, one of the bill’s sponsors, cited medical studies that show access to contraception leads to declines in maternal and infant mortality and higher graduation rates among young women.
“By helping them plan pregnancies and achieve goals like graduation or higher education, more Coloradans will be able to make informed, healthy choices and avoid the cycle of poverty,” Caraveo said.
Oregon and Washington already have similar programs, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization for sexual and reproductive health and rights.
The bill also allows for Medicaid recipients to obtain 12 months of birth control at once, a service that some private insurance companies currently provide, Caraveo said.
Across the U.S., 38% of Latinas are uninsured and a quarter of them live in poverty, according to the bill. In Colorado, Latinx have the highest uninsured rate at 27% of the population.
In the U.S., 45% of all pregnancies are unintended and approximately half are among people who were not using contraception. For Hispanic women, 50% of pregnancies are unintended and Latina youth experience pregnancy at roughly twice the rate of their white counterparts, according to the bill.
Karla Gonzales Garcia, policy director for Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights which helped craft the bill, said access to reproductive care is about justice just as much as health and that the bill ensures Colorado “does not leave anyone behind simply based on a piece of paper.”
“Immigration status nor income should determine who gets to care for themselves and their families, who gets to decide when they become parents and build a family or who is denied care and support,” she said.
The bill’s fiscal note estimates that around 27,000 people are eligible for the program and will enroll, which could avoid 200 unintended pregnancies each year and may save the state an average of $10,765 per pregnancy.
Irene Jaw, a nurse practitioner in Douglas County, who testified in support, noted that birth control availability is important because its also used for “complex health issues” like pelvic pain, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, abnormal uterine bleeding and endometriosis.
Research from the Guttmacher Institute suggests that immigrant women are less likely than U.S.-born women to receive preventive services such as Pap smears to detect and prevent cervical cancer and screening or vaccinations for hepatitis B, an infection that can be life threatening for infants.
Jaw, who also worked as a sexual assault nurse examiner said she’s witnesses the emotional burden on sexual assault survivors who do not have sufficient access to contraceptives.
Access to emergency contraception is important for survivors to prevent pregnancy and “regain control over their lives and their own bodies by deciding if and when they would like to have children,” she added.
Republican Rep. Mark Baisley said he couldn’t support the bill in the interest of his constituents.
“The money to pay for such things doesn’t just come from the state. It doesn’t just come from government. It comes from the people who are taxed to pay for that,” he said.
The Colorado Cathodic Conference opposes the bill because of the church’s views on birth control.
“Contraception is contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church and therefore we oppose a bill that increases taxpayer funding to promote its use,” spokesperson Mark Hass said.
The bill passed the committee on an 8-4 vote with all present Republicans opposed. It will go to the House Appropriations next.
Nieberg is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.