The Ravalli County Commission in Montana wants to be very, very sure that parents have every chance possible to be aware if their child is having sex. In fact, they are so determined to make that happen, they have voted to refuse any Title X family planning funding for low income residents in order to ensure that teens can’t get access to hormonal birth control.
The Ravalli County Commission voted 3-2 to turn down almost $50,000 in grants that would be used to offer contraception coverage, STI screenings, annual exams and other reproductive health care services, effectively ending care for about 400 low income women in the area. The reason behind the decision? The program also allows minor teens to access contraception without notifying their parents, which the board says is “stepping between parent and child.”
“The board has had to weigh the costs versus the benefits,” Commissioner Greg Chilcott told the Missoulian. “In this case, the majority of the board found the social costs were more of a liability than the benefits are worth.” Chilcott voted in favor of keeping the funding intact.
“Social costs” of course are in the eye of the beholder. Ending the program isn’t likely to send most of the minors who were getting birth control or sexual health screenings back to their parents to get a now mandatory permission slip. It seems even less likely to make them decide to forgo having sex all together. What it does seem likely to do, instead, is make them engage in more risky sexual behavior, including unprotected sex, as well as refuse to seek out treatment if they believe they have contacted an STI, putting both them and their current and future partners in danger.
It was exactly these sort of issues that caused a mass outcry in North Carolina, when the state legislature attempted to pass a bill that would require minor teens to obtain sexual health services only with parental permission. The bill would have required proof of parental notification if a minor was seeking birth control or even if she was looking for a pregnancy test. Oddly enough, it was unclear if the same requirement would be needed if she were to seek out emergency contraception over the counter or get a home pregnancy test at the drug store. Uncertainty, as well as a healthy dose of fear that pregnant teens would avoid testing and hence early diagnosis and prenatal care, left the bill stalled during the session.
Regardless of whether the refusal of Title X funds will “help” teens, as the board is claiming, or hurt them, one thing that cannot be denied is that the move will definitely harm the hundreds of low income program participants who will now have to travel across the state if they want to access reduce cost or free services.
Then again, maybe that was the intent all along.
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