- Associated Press - Thursday, July 27, 2017

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) - Be Your Own Baby is not your mother’s birth control website.

One of its slogans is “My uterus is a no baby parking zone.” The promotional video resembles a pop star’s music video.

And it doesn’t shy away from young women talking about sex.

The website connects Delaware women to nearby health centers that provide birth control and will coordinate free rides if needed. The project aims to help women, both insured and uninsured, get free birth control and avoid unplanned pregnancy.

Be Your Own Baby launched in May, and since then, participating health centers have noticed an increase in patients seeking birth control.

It’s a part of the $10 million Delaware Contraceptive Access Now initiative, started by the nonprofit Upstream USA with no government funding. Upstream also provides training and technical assistance to public health centers to help reduce unplanned pregnancy in the country.

“Our goal is to empower women to be able to make choices about when to become pregnant,” said Mark Edwards, co-founder of Upstream USA, which is based in California. “Our view is that unplanned pregnancy can play a big role in derailing trajectories of women and children.”

Delaware has one of the highest rates of unplanned pregnancy in the country, with many among women in their 20s. In 2010, 57 percent of all pregnancies in the state were unplanned, according to the Guttmacher Institute. The rate in 2010, the last year for which statistics were available, was 62 per 1,000 women aged 15-44, compared to the national rate of 52 per 1,000.

The teen pregnancy rate in The First State was 60 per 1,000 women aged 15-19 in 2011, according to the institute. The national rate was 52 per 1,000.

The state is interested in those unplanned pregnancies because many will need government services.

Dr. Karyl Rattay, director of the Division of Public Health, said the department and then-Gov. Jack Markell began discussing how to curb the unplanned pregnancy rate about four years ago. The state found that women of reproductive age did not have adequate access to effective birth control contraception, specifically IUDs, she said

An IUD, a T-shaped piece of plastic that is put into a woman’s uterus to avoid sperm fertilizing an egg, is considered the most effective form of birth control, Rattay said. This type of contraception can cost up to $1,000, but it lasts up to five years. Many health officials and women like IUDs because a woman doesn’t have to remember to take a pill daily or otherwise rely on medication.

Delaware CAN is the first state-wide project organized by Upstream, which was formed in 2014. Edwards said the nonprofit wanted to work in Delaware because of its high unplanned pregnancy rate and its small size.

Right now, 40 Delaware health centers are working with the program.

To get free birth control through the initiative’s website, beyourownbaby.com, women enter their Zip code and indicate whether they have insurance. A list of nearby health centers is then generated with the contact info and hours of each facility.

After making the appointment, the women can sign up for a ride through Circulation, a HIPAA-compliant platform that connects Uber drivers with patients who are in need of transportation to their health care providers.

The website also provides information about the different forms of contraception including IUD, implant, shot, ring, patch, pill, and condoms. Upstream USA plans to add an online scheduling feature to the website in the coming months, Edwards said.

The campaign to help women get birth control comes at a time when federal officials are talking about defunding Planned Parenthood programs, and women’s reproductive health benefits are said to be curtailed under new federal health proposals.

Under the Affordable Care Act, most insurance companies, including Medicaid, eliminated copay fees for birth control medical visits and prescriptions. Fifty-five million women currently have access to birth control without copay through the ACA, but the latest version of the health care bill would eliminate that mandate.

If a Delawarean is uninsured, Upstream USA will pay for any of the costs connected with the doctor’s appointment. The Be Your Own Baby program, which is meant to suggest a woman should take care of herself, also has its own reimbursement plan for people who are accidentally charged.

In May, the Trump administration drafted a regulation that would give employers the option to refuse birth control coverage if a company raised religious or moral objections. The rule has not yet been finalized.

The Center for Public Integrity reported that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services informed 81 institutions this month that funding for teen pregnancy and prevention programs were being cut. The $213 million came from a five-year grant under the Obama administration.

The Division of Public Health is not currently a Teen Pregnancy Prevention grantee and wasn’t impacted by the cuts.

Edwards said Upstream USA is not an advocacy organization and is not involved with the national debate. Right now, the nonprofit is focused on connecting birth control services to women in Delaware, he said.

The nonprofit held focus groups with Delaware women, as well as one-on-one sessions, to learn more about the barriers of accessing birth control, Edwards said. The group found that for most women in The First State, especially in the southern region, the biggest roadblock was finding a ride to a health clinic, he said.

Upstream USA officials also held several meetings with local women about the best way to market the project, Edwards said.

“It was important to create something that stands out and takes notice,” he said. “It was an upbeat quality … Not preachy.”

The promo video, which can be seen on the website, features 20-something women singing about how they’re putting themselves first by taking birth control. The song’s lyrics include: “I know you want to knock them boots, boy/ but you ain’t gonna knock me up, boy” and “You got to treat yourself before you freak yourself.”

Other promotion photos feature bright vibrant colors and images of IUDs and birth control pills.

Rattay said she was glad Upstream USA led the promotional campaign. A state campaign couldn’t be as lively, she said.

“We would not be allowed to do it that way,” Rattay said.

Nicole Theis, president of the Delaware Family Policy Council, a pro-life organization, said in a statement that the Be Your Own Baby website only markets “quick and easy ‘solutions’” that ignore the “dangerous consequences” of “promiscuous sex.”

She criticized the website for targeting “girls as young as preteens” and for not including a way for parents to know if their teenage daughter is implanted with contraception, which she described as a ” long acting sterilization device.” Theis said she would rather see the government promote “a culture where life is valued and cherished.”

Delaware’s three Planned Parenthood locations saw a “significant” increase in women seeking birth control in May and June, after the website launched, compared to a year ago, said Amelia Auner, vice president of operations at Planned Parenthood of Delaware.

Amanda Fretz, office manager for Khan Obstetrics and Gynecology Associates, P.A. in Dover, said the health center has seen more patients ask for long-acting reversible contraceptives such as IUDs, especially the website launched, but can’t say whether that’s because of Be Your Own Baby program. Many women have been seeking IUDs out of fear that their birth control expenses would rise under a Republican health plan, health officials have said.

The “loud, flashy, bling-y” marketing campaign is making young, millennial patients realize that they can get free birth control for free, Fretz said.

And surprisingly, Fretz said, some young Amish women are using the initiative after learning of Be Your Own Baby through the advertisements that hung on the practice’s waiting room walls.

“It’s hitting millennial women of reproductive age who don’t want to have babies,” she said. “It’s sending the message there are things they can do to avoid that.”

___

Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., https://www.delawareonline.com

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