One of the biggest obstacles to improving Mississippi is the high rate of births to young, single mothers. This would imply that most of these pregnancies are unplanned, and a recent story on The Washington Post website details a program in Delaware that has reduced the number of these births.
The story by freelance writer Karen Reese said 45 percent of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned — whether to single or married women. Many get pregnant in spite of using common birth control measures like the pill.
Only 7 percent of women are using more effective prevention measures, like the implantation of an intrauterine device or a matchstick-sized implant in the arm that releases pregnancy-preventing hormones for a full year.
Obstacles to greater use of these methods include cost (the pill is cheaper), the requirement for a second visit to a doctor and even Medicaid rules.
In 2014, Delaware wanted to find out what would happen if it removed these obstacles, improving access to the full range of birth control options. It worked: Unplanned pregnancies among women aged 20 to 39 who received care at publicly funded medical clinics declined by 15 percent by 2016.
Delaware partnered with a nonprofit, Upstream USA, to make simple health care changes. Upstream helped health centers offer patients same-day access to IUDs or arm implants. It also worked with state officials to tweak its Medicaid rules, which previously denied payment to physicians for insertion of one of the devices if a woman wanted it immediately after giving birth.
Delaware faced some of the concerns about the program that you would expect if something like it ever got discussed in Mississippi. An Upstream co-founder, for example, used to be a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Rights Action League.
But Delaware lawmakers who worried about getting involved with anything related to birth control took the risk when they saw the potential for financial savings in medical care and social support programs. And Upstream, to its credit, stayed focused on the goal of reducing unplanned pregnancies instead of debating Roe v. Wade.
You can hear the objection of anybody in Mississippi who has a concern about this idea: The best way for a woman to prevent an unplanned pregnancy is not to have sex in the first place! That is undeniably true, but so are the facts. And the facts say that Mississippi has a huge problem with young, unwed mothers.
This problem far too often results in children growing up without a father, living in poverty and being less likely to get a decent education and a good job. It is getting to the point that Mississippi has no hope of catching up with the rest of the country without drastic changes.
There’s no way to know if what happened in Delaware could be replicated in Mississippi. But whatever the state has been doing about unplanned pregnancies has not worked. At a minimum, we ought to look at this program.