Colorado’s free birth control experiment could change the world

July 14, 2015 Originally published on SFGate

It’s all kinds of thrilling, albeit slightly heartbreaking, to extrapolate, to freely wonder at the staggering ramifications across all cultures and all populations of the world – all patriarchies, social structures and religions of man – if the entire world could just somehow replicate what Colorado just accomplished, only multiplied by about, oh, three billion.

Did you read? As the NYT reported, researchers in Colorado just posted astonishing success with an intriguing social experiment: the state’s teenaged and poor, uninsured young women were offered free, long-term birth control (read: implants and IUDs) if they wanted it, all to see if it would affect teen pregnancy and abortion rates across the state and, in so doing, help the women galvanize their own future.

Can you guess what happened? Of course you can: A lot of needful women took them up on the offer, and both rates dropped, dramatically.

Correction: Very dramatically. Teen pregnancies fell a whopping 40 percent. Abortion rates plummeted by even more: 42 percent. The success rate was, you might say, off the charts. No one had ever seen anything like it.

But even more important is what happened to the women themselves. Happier, emboldened, certainly more empowered, given a foothold on a future they almost certainly wouldn’t have had otherwise, had they accidentally become pregnant at the grunting behest of careless males, of which there are far too many, and the population of which all that free birth control would, paradoxically and down the road a few years, help delimit. Win-win!

But it’s the empowerment part that cannot be overstated: teen pregnancy and abortion rates (and millions in health care dollars saved by the state) are one thing, but the shocking liberation women enjoy when procreative (and sexual) choice is fully enabled? Nothing short of revolutionary – even if it is, of course, a power they should have had all along.

The bad news: The experiment, which was privately funded by the Susan Thompson Buffett (late wife of Warren) Foundation, is just about out of money, and Colorado Republicans, of course, are not shy about being gross hypocrites when refusing (relatively miniscule) new funding.

But never mind that now. Can we extrapolate anyway? Just for the sheer thrill of relishing the potential transformation, if this experiment suddenly went global, bigger and wider and thoroughly explosive?

Here’s the thing: despite its common-sense obviousness, despite lots of previous evidence that easier access to safe birth control does wonders for teen pregnancy/abortion rates, despite the misogyny and hypocrisy of Republicans, free long-term birth control for all women everywhere would, in a relative instant, transform the world. Can you imagine?

Let us widen out. Let us imagine that every government worldwide, without exception and including women’s rights-challenged places like Poland, Ireland, Chile, Texas and much of Africa, were to make the same offer Colorado did, but with even fewer restrictions and conditions.

Which is to say: Free, safe, long-term birth control, for any woman in the world who wanted it, regardless of class, nationality, income, age, marital status or race.

No fees. No insurance required. No permission from a parent, a scowling judge, a sexually terrified male, a patriarchal culture required. No public records kept, all procedures completely anonymous, all medicines safe, proven and completely legal. Cost to world governments: A relative pittance. Benefit to world integrity: Incalculable.

Can you imagine? Put another way: By giving every woman in the world safe, effortless access to her own procreative timing, she also regains power over her own sexuality, her own identity, her own future. Translation: A revolution, on a scale the world has rarely seen.

Think most women have that power already? Not even close.

Behold, the Abortion Drone! First Poland, then Texas. And Alabama. And Mississippi. And…

Behold, the Abortion Drone! First Poland, then Texas. And Alabama. And Mississippi. And…

Hell, you could even go mobile. How about a birth control delivery app? A fleet of trucks – just like food trucks, only for empowerment. Free implants, no questions asked! Condoms and “morning after” pills and gift cards for Good Vibrations, too. Park them at high schools. Park them at churches. Park them at Congress. Public parks. All over Texas.

It’s not exactly a groundbreaking idea, I realize. The Marie Stopes Foundation has been at it for years, and has had remarkable success in bringing birth control technologies to millions of women in needful countries around the globe, even in places historically antagonistic to females being in control of, well, anything at all. And the Gates Foundation is all over new, implantable microchip technology – birth control with an “on/off” switch – that could further revolutionize family planning. Lots of good underway.

But it takes very little skimming of the news to realize that savage degradation and abuse of women is still rampant across the globe, even here in the U.S. We’re still light years from universal acceptance of female empowerment. See, “free access to birth control for all women” essentially points to “equal rights for all women” – and god knows conservatives, organized religions and oppressive patriarchies of the world simply can’t have that.

So, the battle continues. And inspiring stories abound – like Oregon recently allowing women to obtain a year’s supply of birth control at a time, or the one about Women on Waves, the pro-choice advocacy group who just flew an “abortion drone” into Poland, armed with packs of RU-486.

Now there’s a good use of modern technology. Can we try that in Alabama?

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Mark Morford

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