As a long-time judicial magistrate at the Memphis Juvenile Court, Claudia Halton saw first-hand the effects having children too early had on the future of young women. So often, when little ones were being placed into foster care, she’d hear stories of how a woman’s support network had stayed together through her first pregnancy only to fall apart as subsequent babies arrived.
“Then I began checking into birth control and discovered what a hassle it was for poor women,” notes Halton. Often, women lack adequate transportation, health insurance, even the means to pay for birth control. So when Halton retired from her 17-year career with the court system last year, she decided to create a nonprofit that would address this critical issue — by providing free birth control services to women across Shelby County.
The Step Ahead Foundation, which launched in August, offers free, long-term, reversible birth control to any woman who desires protection. There are no requirements. In addition, the foundation makes free transportation available to and from participating clinics. Foundation partners include Christ Community Health Services and the Memphis Health Center.
“Our goal is to help women get a step ahead: to plan their lives, to plan their babies,” says Halton. “The day I knew I was making the right decision was the day I had a 17-year-old in front of me with four children. I was looking around that court wondering who was responsible for this.”
How it Works
When you call the 24-hour hotline (320-STEP), you’ll receive one-on-one assistance in scheduling an appointment with a participating clinic. Once you arrive at the clinic for your appointment, medical professionals will review your medical history and discuss the four types of birth control available. They will also answer any questions you might have about your body and reproductive choices.
The free options provide long-term protection against pregnancy (though not STDs) that lasts anywhere from 12 weeks to 10 years. The birth control methods include:
• DepoProvera, a shot which is administered once every 12 weeks
• Implanon/Explanon, an implant which provides three years of birth control
• Mirena IUD, which provides five years of protection
• ParaGard IUD, which provides 10 years of protection
Lowering Unplanned Pregnancies
Halton says she hopes this effort can make a difference in the number of unplanned pregnancies that occur in Memphis. According to a recent report from the Mississippi Economic Policy Center, births from teen and preteens cost the state of Tennessee a whopping $272 million in 2008 alone. That figure was $154.9 million for Mississippi.
Step Ahead will be collecting data on the women who participate, which could result in more funding. The nonprofit currently receives grant monies from the Plough Foundation as well as private donors. While birth control is available to any woman who wants it, minors under 16 must have parental consent. Interested?
Call 320-STEP or go to stepahead.me. To learn about all birth control methods, go to plannedparenthood.org.