By Michael Howell
The Ravalli County Board of Health on January 11 voted to send a letter of support to the County Commissioners urging them to accept the funding that comes with the Title X program for family planning.
County Health Nurse Judy Griffin told the Ravalli County Board of Health that the state would be sending out a letter of intent concerning the use of Title X grant funds to the Ravalli County Commissioners in the next few days giving them two weeks to respond positively concerning acceptance of the funds or the letter of intent would be re-directed to another agency, such as Planned Parenthood, or some other organization that was willing to accept the funds.
Griffin said that Ravalli County has been participating in the program for decades and that such letters of intent were regularly sent out by the state, which disburses the funds, about every seven years. She said that the county last received such a letter five years ago. Griffin said that the state was sending the letter now as a result of recent issues, referring to the commissioners’ near rejection of the funds earlier this year. She said the county would be given two weeks to respond or the letter would be re-directed to a willing recipient.
Commissioner Matt Kanenwisher, who currently serves as Chairman of the Board, said that he was confused as to why this was being brought before the Board of Health when it is the Commissioners who will decide.
“Is it for a letter of support?” he asked.
“Yes,” said Griffin.
Kanenwisher said it was not really on the agenda that way, that it might not be appropriate to have a vote, but he would go along with it if that is what the board wanted. In the alternative he suggested that individual board members could write letters of support. He made the motion to write the letter of support to initiate discussion.
Board member Kathleen Mauer stated that the family planning clinic was an essential element in providing health care to people who are uninsured and cannot afford regular medical services. She said the only other option was to go to the Emergency Room. She called the family planning clinic a crucial alternative to providing basic health needs.
Dr. Mick Turner agreed, saying the clinics should be offered through the County and not through some other as yet unknown agency or group.
“I am on record with my opinion,” said Kanenwisher. He lamented that the issue was so politicized.
“The more political these things become, the less rational people can be,” he said. “I really regret the nature of the discussion sometimes.”
Kanenwisher expressed his deep personal concerns about the issue of children receiving health care, such as birth control, without approval of their parents. He said that the Supreme Court has issued several opinions establishing that parents have the right to make decisions for their children calling it a “fundamental inferred constitutional right.” He said that for the state to prohibit the county from contacting the parents violates the rights of the parents. He said the current practice supercedes the rights of parents without due process.
“I wish the federal government had not attached that parental right violation to Title X programs. In my mind it’s wrong. It’s something I can’t do. I can’t sign my name to something that violates that right,” said Kanenwisher.
“I’m not sure why we are even having this conversation, since it’s a Board of Commissioners decision,” he said again.
Board member Andrea Day said, “I’ve been there myself, without insurance and needing health care. I support the program.”
Mauer spoke passionately and at length about the need to protect children who find themselves in desperate and deplorable relationships with family members and are afraid to seek help if it means the family members are informed.
“Thirteen years of experience in Missoula County opened my eyes,” she said. “I had a thirteen year old girl tell me her father had impregnated her twice.” She said that state law was designed not to take away parents’ rights but to give some rights to the child who is being molested. She said the clinic is not prohibited from contacting the parents, they just need the child’s permission. She said some children just cannot be sent back into that kind of environment.
“The Board of Health is supposed to be supporting community health, not just dealing with septic systems,” said Mauer.
“That is exactly my point,” said Kanenwisher. “If they break the law there is due process to remove their rights.” He said in this case, the parents are assumed to be guilty beforehand.
“I should not lose my rights because someone else is breaking the law,” said Kanenwisher.
The only public comment was made by Bill LaCroix who said, “When this letter is sent out, the Commissioners will have only two weeks to act. If they don’t, Judy will shut down the clinic. People begin falling through the cracks right then.”
LaCroix urged the Board to approve a letter of support to the commissioners.
The question was called and the motion to send a letter of support urging the Commissioners to accept the Title X funding was approved on a 4 to 1 vote, with Commissioner Kanenwisher casting the dissenting vote.