Bill saved for teen pregnancy prevention
DENVER — A bill to extend teen pregnancy-prevention programs in Mesa, Delta and Montrose counties was nearly sidelined in the Legislature last week because of concerns the programs were tied to abortion funding.
Senate Bill 177 is a routine sunset review bill of a Medicaid program that has helped reduce the number of teen pregnancies and dropout rates of high school girls in the three counties. But objections began to surface “out of left field,” according to proponents of the measure.
Opponents claimed the bill, which is designed to encourage other counties in the state to create their own pregnancy-prevention programs, would lead to pro-choice groups operating them.
Their opposition began in March, when representatives of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains testified in a Senate committee, urging lawmakers to support the programs. Then, when the Senate debated it on the floor late last month, Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, cautioned his fellow legislators against voting for the bill, saying he was a supporter of the programs until he learned that Planned Parenthood supports them, too.
“When this came before our committee, Planned Parenthood ... talked about how excited they were to be involved in this all along the Front Range,” Lundberg said. “I am concerned that his bill is walking perilously close to a violation of the constitutional prohibition on indirect funding for abortion services.”
Regardless, the measure cleared the Senate on a 25–9 vote, with the Western Slope’s three Republicans, Steve King, Jean White and Ellen Roberts, favoring it.
But when it was about to reach the House for more debate, its lead sponsor, Rep. B.J. Nikkel, R-Loveland, pulled her name off the bill. A measure can’t be introduced into either chamber without a chief sponsor.
Nikkel denied she dropped her sponsorship of the bill because of the abortion objections, saying instead she was too busy with other measures and didn’t have time for it.
Planned Parenthood spokeswoman Monica McCafferty said it was unfortunate that a few lawmakers chose to put politics before policy.
“We did support this measure, but is has nothing to do with us, so it’s definitely unfortunate that politics came into play here,” McCafferty said. “People are politicking over what’s good for Colorado’s youth.”
Though Planned Parenthood does offer abortion services in some parts of the state, its primary focus is on sexual and reproductive health care for women, including prevention. It operates 24 clinics in the state, 10 of which provide abortion services. None of those clinics has any connection with the Western Slope programs.
The directors of the two programs said they were dumbfounded over the abortion objections, particularly because the decade-old programs have helped teens do exactly what the bill’s opponents want: prevent abortions by preventing pregnancies.
Neither of their programs has anything to do with abortions or abortion advocacy, said Margery Grandbouche, nonresidential services coordinator for the Opportunity Center, 1129 Colorado Ave., which operates the Get Real program in Mesa County, and Marie Olson, manager of the Teen Companion program that serves Montrose and Delta counties.
“Our focus is pregnancy prevention,” Grandbouche said. “We don’t talk about what happens when you get pregnant because our focus is on not getting pregnant.”
Grandbouche, Olson and Peg Mewes, director of the Montrose County Department of Health and Human Services, said the bill is needed to continue that work, which has cut the number of teen pregnancies by more than half in both counties over the past decade.
All three are praising Rep. Don Coram for stepping in to rescue the bill. The Montrose Republican said he knows the programs have nothing to do with Planned Parenthood or abortions.
“Yes, that was a concern, but it was a reaction without knowing the facts,” Coram said. “It’s been very successful, and down the road, it’s saving the state and the county a lot of money on welfare. It’s a great program.”
The bill is to be heard Tuesday in the House Health & Environment Committee.