By Michael Howell
At least two of the Ravalli County Commissioners expressed strong objections last Tuesday, July 19, to accepting federal funds for the Public Health Department’s Family Planning Program. Commissioners Matt Kanenwisher and Suzy Foss both expressed strong objections to accepting federal funds with strings attached, especially when the strings attached have to do with possibly prescribing birth control to minors without requiring parental notification.
Public Health Nurse Judy Griffin told the commissioners that the Family Planning Program has been in place in the Public Health Office since the 1970s. The clinic offers education and counseling about nutrition, sexually transmitted diseases, and birth control. It offers low cost contraceptives and other medications to its patients. Under federal law the services are confidential between patient and clinic. Under Title X even minors have this right to privacy and information can be kept confidential even from their parents.
Griffin said that the program’s budget for last year was $50,000, but that this year’s budget was set at $39,807. She said that the clinic’s hours had been cut in half. In prior years the clinic was open four times a month but that was being reduced to twice a month under the new contract as a cost savings measure. The services are contracted out with federal dollars paying half the cost of the contract and the county paying the other half.
Commissioner Kanenwisher said that he could accept part of the program. “Screening for infectious diseases makes sense,” he said, “but I don’t believe birth control is part of public health… Combine that with minors getting it without their parents’ permission and I, personally, cannot cross that line,” said Kanenwisher.
Kanenwisher ridiculed the notion of emergency contraception saying, “contraception after the fact is not contraception.”
Commissioner Suzy Foss was in agreement.
“We are going to hell in a hand basket,” said Foss, “and everything we do about it adds to the problem.” She said that she could not be a part of taking parenting away from parents. She said that the government should not be getting involved in medical issues.
Commissioner Greg Chilcott raised the issue of the cost of varying contraceptives. Griffin explained that the county provides at low cost both pills and injections. She said in response to questioning that the past offering of IUD devices had been discontinued due to budget constraints. Chilcott also stated that he had a problem with youth being treated without parental notification.
Foss called it an accountability problem. These are major life decisions, she said, and even if their parents are not consulted they still end up dealing with the consequences. She said not contacting parents contributed to the breakdown of the family unit.
Chilcott asked Griffin, “What are our options?” He wondered if some parts of the program could be supported and others not.
Griffin said that she could not really answer that question. She suggested they ask the State Director of the program who administers the federal funds being used in the contract. She said they had 45 days to sign the contract with the federal funds attached, although an extension of that deadline may be possible.
Griffin said on Monday that she was in communication with Colleen Lindsey, the State Director of Women and Men’s Health, and was hoping to arrange a meeting with the commissioners, perhaps by the first week of August.