Why is this self-described “redneck Republican” passionate about women’s reproductive health?
Meet Colorado lawmaker Don Coram.
Don Coram is a member of the Colorado House of Representatives, representing District 58. Rep. Coram, a self-described “redneck Republican,” has been a strong advocate of maintaining and increasing funding for the state’s ground-breaking Colorado Family Planning Initiative (CFPI). Woman at the Center interviewed Rep. Coram by phone in May.
Can you tell me about your connections to family planning issues and the Colorado Family Planning Initiative? How you got involved?
I got involved several years ago, in my home town of Montrose, which at that time was referred to as “Maternity High School.” Our state representative at the time did some legislation creating the pilot program for three counties — Montrose, Delta, and Mesa — and it was a program for teen pregnancy prevention. It did not involve anything other than education. Then when Colorado ran this pilot program, they brought forth the information and asked if I would be interested in carrying the bill and it actually seemed like a great bill to me. The IUD bill was introduced last session; it came through the House but died in the Senate. So what we did this year is we worked with the joint budget committee to try and get it in the budget process, which would make it easier to get the bill through, and I was a part of that.
So now, the program will continue and it’s been a very good program. In the beginning, the pilot program had a $25 million grant. Every dollar that we spent we averted spending about $5.85 in Medicaid costs.
Why have you chosen to take a stand on supporting this program and improved reproductive health access?
Well I think that’s a very easy question to answer. It’s the right thing to do. The Colorado Family Planning Program is a program that’s proven itself. If you’re pro-life, which I am, and interested in preventing unintended teen pregnancy, the program reduced unintended teen pregnancy and abortion by over 40% and those are huge and impressive numbers. It also saved the state a great deal of money. But more importantly, it maintained a quality of life. To me, this program was an opportunity to break the cycle of poverty in our communities. There are other cycles related to unintended pregnancy: daughters of mothers who had an unintended pregnancy are also more likely to have an unintended teen pregnancy, and sons of mothers who had an unintended pregnancy are more likely to be incarcerated. So it’s a huge cost to the state and the nation, not to mention the people who have been sentenced to a live of poverty as a result of unintended pregnancy. Then there’s the data about education. Teen mothers and fathers are less likely to finish their education. That limits how one can make a better life for themselves, and our communities lose the opportunity to benefit from the potential these people had before their unintended pregnancy.
What do you say or what would you say to people who don’t support the program nor support access to family planning?
I think most people don’t understand the program, so it’s a matter of education. I think a lot of people see this as just an abortion tool and it is not. It is something that is preventing the pregnancy, therefore we reduce the amount of abortions. I think what we need to do is re-educate, and I think programs like Women at the Center will go a long way in making the general public and legislators aware of what the CFPI is doing. Many of my constituents and colleagues are on the Republican side of the aisle, and say to me, “I know what you’re trying to do and it’s the right thing to do but politically it’s not wise for me to be involved in this.”
Why is there such a misunderstanding when it comes to what family planning is and what abortion is?
I think it’s one of those situations that it’s not an every-day public service announcement. People don’t take the time to educate themselves, and the state hasn’t made the effort to get the information out there, so I think it’s a plain lack of knowledge and lack of information.
What do you see as the role of men around family planning and contraception issues, not just personally but politically?
I think it’s very important that men be aware and involved. The trouble with men is that they want to talk about sports and work but they never get down to understanding issues like teen pregnancy. Many men have daughters but they refuse to be aware that their daughters have become sexually active, or will, and if you don’t talk about the problem then there is no problem. I think men try to hide from these conversations.
When it comes to solutions to this, I think about the teen pregnancy program we had in Montrose. We had about 400 students in the program, both boys and girls, and that program was simply education and conversation around these issues and the life choices that are available to young people. During that program, over one year, we had just three unintended pregnancies in three counties, so that shows us that education works.
That program was started back in the 1990s when Montrose was referred as “Maternity High School.” We got a pilot program through and that lasted five years and was renewed for another five years. Last year it was up for review, and it came through the House but it died in the Senate and is no longer available. The whole state could’ve benefited from this education program, so that’s why I got involved in the CFPI bill.
I think we need more education, and frankly, I think Colorado leads in the nation. I would encourage other states, other governors, other legislators to contact Colorado and see what we’ve done. It’s been incredible. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel here, we have a great program that’s proven itself. We’re keeping kids in school, we cut the abortion rate by 40 percent, and we’ve broken the cycle of poverty. So if you can find something wrong with that, point it out to me now.
Are you a father? And if yes, why is improved access to family planning important to you from that perspective?
I have one son who’s 48 years old, who’s never been pregnant, so that hasn’t been an issue for me personally. But I’ve had a niece who got pregnant in high school, and because of the program we had in place, we were able to keep her in school. She has done a very good job about supporting herself, and she’s been a very productive member of society. I’m very proud of her.
What do you see as the relevance of this program within the larger national landscape around these issues now? Where does this program fit into the national dialogue, and what kind of support do states like Colorado want from the federal government to help women and men deal with family planning issues?
Well, it’s a huge savings. Medicaid is consuming the Colorado budget. Medicaid costs are higher than education and transportation combined, so anything we can do to do reduce the burden of Medicaid costs to the state is very important, and that’s a nationwide problem, too. The economic benefit of programs like this is huge, not just for the women and families, but for the nation.
Do you believe this is a model the global or international community can learn from? Are there any plans to show the success of this program to national or international sustainable development groups?
Colorado has been highlighted as leading the nation in reducing unintended teen pregnancy, so absolutely, we will be front and center in promoting this program and its benefits. Please reach out to Colorado, we are the leaders! I think we need to keep making these issue public because that is how we are going to win this war. This is something Colorado is proud of doing and we have a blueprint for the rest of the world. I’m very honored to be a part of it. So call the state of Colorado, call me, we want to see this model grow and expand across the nation and world.
When you and your colleagues were discussing this program, were there any conversations around the connections between environmental health and access to family planning?
The thing is, you can’t have a healthy environment without a healthy economy, so when we’re spending dollars on unintended pregnancies, that’s funding that can be used for other issues like clean water and clean air. Every dollar has impact, and if you divert that to benefiting the environment or reproductive health, then why not.