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In November, Austin Community Foundation and St. David’s Foundation invited Ellen Marshall, with the Colorado Initiative to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy, to Austin Forward, a speaker series hosted for local philanthropists that features forward-thinking leaders from around the country.

Marshall shared Colorado’s journey to national leadership in family planning and its success in improving health outcomes while lowering state costs. In 2009, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, with funding from a private donor, established the Colorado Family Planning Initiative to provide training, operational support, outreach and low- or no-cost long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs), such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants, to low-income women statewide.

The Colorado Initiative worked with public and private partners to reduce pregnancies women themselves said were unplanned. The initiative was a multi-year, multi-faceted strategic approach to reduce unintended pregnancies, with special attention to the needs of low-income and uninsured women.

The initiative included four key strategies:

  • Increase access to quality services
  • Increase access to IUDs/implants
  • Promote healthy decisions and planning
  • Improve public policy and practices


“No single tactic or player is going to solve this issue,” said Marshall. She explained the framework included one foundation, 17 grantees, two coordinators and multiple stakeholders.

The initiative focused on removing barriers to LARCs through education, counseling and financial support for women who could not otherwise pay for such birth control. They also invested in marketing and outreach campaigns on sexual health, including outdoor advertising, social media and the website, beforeplay.org.

“We really felt like there was a big need to normalize the conversation about sexual health and have something out there talking about it,” said Marshall. “We received so much positive feedback from the public.”

Below is a brief snapshot of the program’s astounding results (from 2009 to 2016):

  • Birth rates among teens (15-19) dropped 54 percent
  • Birth rates among teens (15-19) with 2nd or 3rd births dropped 64 percent
  • Abortion rates among teens (15-19) dropped 63 percent
  • Abortion rates among 20-24 year olds dropped 41 percent
  • IUD and implant use increased four times greater than the national average
  • 92 percent of teen moms who received an implant before leaving the hospital did not get pregnant again for at least two years


A lot can be learned from the Colorado Initiative. Central Texas continues to see high rates of teen pregnancy, which leaves young women less likely to finish school and much more likely to raise their children in poverty

Efforts like the Colorado Initiative take understanding our community’s gaps, convening hard conversations and inviting both public and private sectors to the table. St. David’s Foundation and the Women’s Fund at Austin Community Foundation are working to reduce the teen birth rate in Central Texas through education and grantmaking. Reducing teen pregnancy rates in our community has the potential to reduce high school dropout rates, improve college competition and positively affect the economy.

If you’re interested in this topic and want to get involved, contact Meagan Anderson Longley at Austin Community Foundation.