Montana Birth Control Ban Unconstitutional

A Montana judge struck down that state’s ban on prescription birth control coverage for teenage girls enrolled in its low-income health insurance program, saying the ban violated the Montana Constitution.

Healthy Montana Kids is the state’s insurance program for families with incomes up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level. The program had covered prescription contraceptives for uses such as acne prevention and cramps but would not cover contraceptives to prevent pregnancy.

Those distinctions, said District Judge Jim Reynolds, violate the Montana Constitution’s privacy and equal protection clauses and enjoined the state from enforcing them.

A minor’s choice regarding procreation is constitutionally protected, whether that choice is to prevent, obtain, maintain or terminate a pregnancy, Reynolds wrote in his decision, and f the state provides coverage for one choice, it must provide coverage for all options neutrally.

Additionally, the fact that the program allows contraceptive coverage to prevent acne but not to prevent pregnancy illustrates an unconstitutional intrusion “into the most intimate of doctor-patient relationships” whether a person wants to become pregnant or not. “In this scheme, if you want to control acne, your birth control is covered; if you want to avoid pregnancy and control your procreative autonomy, your birth control is not covered. This turns the idea of the fundamental right of privacy on its head,” Reynolds wrote.

There is no reason to require a poor minor, who has the same constitutional rights as an adult, to say why she is seeking or using birth control unless it is for her protection, the judge wrote. But the contraception coverage ban isn’t meant to protect the teen and it even appears to go against the state’s interest stated in another law of preventing teenage pregnancies, Reynolds wrote.

Instead, the regulations appear designed to simply shame poor young girls from seeking birth control.

Montana had been one of only four states in the nation that prohibited birth control coverage through federally funded Children’s Health Insurance Programs. The others are North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas, according to Planned Parenthood of Montana, which brought the lawsuit against the state.

Montana’s Children’s Health Insurance Program includes about 2,000 girls and young women ages 15 to 19, according to Planned Parenthood. Last year, the organization estimated about 450 teens were in need of contraception coverage, and spokeswoman Lindsay Love said she estimates that number will grow. Planned Parenthood had been using federal Title X funds to subsidize birth control for teens in the Healthy Montana Kids. Now that money can go to patients who are not enrolled in an insurance program and have no other avenue to obtain contraceptives, said Love.

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Photo from eflon via flickr.


Christine Stewart

Thank goodness for that judge. Maybe there should be mandatory vasectomies instead anyway....

Donald B.
Donald Burnison5 years ago

All judges have to due is represent, respect, and upphold our constitution. Why do the rich have to try to control those less fortunate than they have been. Isn't it enough that they have their silver spoons, but now they want to tell the peons how to live. They are so arrogant as to believe their social positioin and excessive wealth allows them to control other citizens. I am sure they have access to the constitution, and one can only assume that they can find a bible somewhere to guide them. They must be shaking in their boots if they read the passages that said, "The meek shall inhefit the world".

John B.
John B5 years ago

Judge Jim Reynolds if I could I'd send you a gold star not a green one. thanks for posting the good news Jessica.

William K.
William K5 years ago

...and a ray of hope breaks through the clouds.

I am glad that there are rational judges out there still who are willing to do what is right.

Now if all of these state legislatures would stop wasting time and tax payer dollars passing laws that are blatantly unconstitutional.

John Mansky
John Mansky5 years ago

Thank you for the article...

Betty S.
Betty S.5 years ago

Judge Jim Reynolds you are the best! Thanks for helping poor young women get the same options as their more affluent peers.

nicola w.
Jane H5 years ago

Wow Judge Jim rocks - in touch and relevant ! rare.

Theo C.
Theo C5 years ago

Responsibility should be built into the constitution. If a policy has a consequence, those who wish to enact that policy are absolutely required to take responsibility for that consequence. Thus, if making access to birth control more difficult for young, poor women results in more children being born, then the policy-makers are absolutely required to raise those children according to reasonable standards, say the standards a court would set for a middle-class father in a child support case. If policy-makers are unwilling to take on the consequences of their own policies, they they should be prohibited from making them into policy.

Simple. And we'd finally have responsible government.

Winn Adams
Winn A5 years ago


Joan E.
Joan E5 years ago

Good for the judge. Good for all who respect someone else's choice to control her own body.