Warren Buffett’s quiet, incredibly effective crusade to help women get IUDs

Warren the Riveter.
Warren the Riveter.
Image: Reuters/Rick Wilking
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The use of long-lasting and highly-effective intrauterine devices is on the rise in the United States, and much of the increase is due to the quiet efforts of Warren Buffett, the third-richest man in the world.

Once deemed unsafe, IUDs are gaining popularity among women as a method of contraception that is convenient, reversible, and 99% effective. According to the CDC, the bulk of the increase happened very recently. From 2006-2010 to 2011-2013, the number of women aged 15-44 who used IUDs rose by a stunning 83%.

The T-shaped devices can either made of copper or contain certain hormones; when inserted into the uterus, they create an inhospitable environment for sperm.

Buffett has been quietly channeling money into the development of IUDs for the past decade, Bloomberg Businessweek reported in a cover story this week. While it’s no secret that the mogul’s Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation is a major funder of reproductive health efforts, his influence over the rising popularity of this particular form of birth control had largely gone unnoticed.

The New York Times reported earlier this month on the stunning success of a Colorado program designed to prevent teenage pregnancies. Thanks to free IUDs and hormonal implants, teenage births fell by 40% between 2009 to 2013, and abortions by teens fell by 42%. Karen Weise reports in Businessweek that the Buffett Foundation poured $50 million into the effort between 2008 and 2013.

The foundation is also involved in several other birth control initiatives, for the most part anonymously. One is a landmark study of nearly 10,000 women in St. Louis that found 56% of women chose IUDs when given the option to chose a free contraceptive. Buffett’s funding was also crucial in the development of a lower-cost IUD, called the Liletta.