CEDAR FALLS -- About half of all pregnancies among Iowa women 20 to 25 are unplanned.
Of those, about 14 percent end in termination.
Former Iowa First Lady Christie Vilsack hopes a new state organization and a new research program at the University of Northern Iowa can help reduce those rates in the coming years. Earlier this month Vilsack launched her latest campaign: The Iowa Initiative to Reduce Unintended Pregnancies.
On Thursday, she was joined by UNI administrators, faculty and staff in unveiling the first piece of this puzzle -- a five-year $11.5 million research project that has the potential to reach every county in the state before its conclusion.
"Teen pregnancies in this state may be down, but we want to go after that stagnant number of women 18 to 30 who are affected by unplanned pregnancies," Vilsack said.
Mary Losch, an associate professor of psychology at UNI, will head up the research portion of the initiative, which will include five individual projects. The overarching goal is to reduce unintended pregnancies and abortion rates by determining the most effective ways of educating young women about contraception and pregnancy-planning services and increasing access to facilities that provide these services. The research efforts will be led by professors at UNI, the University of Iowa and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
The research projects include the following:
-- An initiative that would utilize hair stylists as a conduit for disseminating information. The model has proven successful in other parts of the country when dealing with topics like diabetes education.
-- Using pharmacists to increase the accessibility and visibility of over-the-counter contraceptives. Losch said many over-the-counter products are actually locked away behind the pharmacist's window, which means many don't know they are available.
-- Utilizing radio soap operas to reach out to and educate women, especially blacks and Hispanics, through a different medium.
-- Reaching out to college-age women through electronic media. Losch said this project is designed to "tap into where the college students are and live" and would likely utilize social networking Web sites.
-- A statewide project that would use traditional local media to disseminate education about contraception and pregnancy-planning services.
The researchers will spend the first year building relationships in partnering communities, before moving into the second phase, which would include the implementation of the actual programs. The final year will then be used to evaluate the data and measure each program's effectiveness, Losch said.
"This will allow us to know which program, or which piece of a program, is the most effective. That information will allow us to hone in on additional programming that will eventually have an impact across the state," Losch said. "We hope to have a tremendous impact here, but we also want to take this information and make a difference outside of Iowa, too."
Vilsack said she also hopes this information will make state leaders take notice of the problems, too. Iowa currently ranks 48th in the nation in making family planning services available.
"A low-income woman might be able to walk into a clinic and get birth control, but she may not have access to the newest, long-term contraceptives that are 100 percent effective and last for three years," Vilsack said. "We want to level that playing field."
Contact Emily Christensen at (319) 291-1570 or email@example.com.