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Protestors rally against closure of Ravalli County Family Planning program

By Kevin Maki, KECI Reporter, kmaki@keci.com
Published On: Sep 30 2013 08:51:16 PM MDT
Updated On: Sep 30 2013 09:10:48 PM MDT

After commissioners rejected Title X federal funding, the program was forced to close.

HAMILTON, Mont. -

The Ravalli County Public Health Department shut down its family planning clinic Monday afternoon.

Commissioners rejected $50,000 in federal Title X money to fund it.

It provided counseling, birth control, emergency contraception, STD prevention services, plus screening and testing for breast, cervical and testicular cancers.

Its loss brought homemade signs, songs and chants in support of a clinic decades old. Protestors marched to the lawn of the county building.

They are critical of three of the five commissioners who voted to reject Title X money, but saved most of their ire against Suzy Foss, who supported the program in the past, but cast the clincher vote.

They delivered cupcakes to her office, a quip that $50,000 for health care could be made up by community fundraising like bake sales.

"The question," asked family planning supporter Bruce Weide, "is why take an effort that has been successful for 42 years, and dismantle it without a solution."

But Foss said she thought long and hard about her vote. She said she knows doctors who support the commissioners' decision. She said she has concerns about possible long term health effects of young people receiving birth control or the morning after pill.

The commissioner said family planning clients can find services at Marcus Daly Hospital or its clinics.

"They have someone that will help them with the resources to find out if there are things they can qualify for," said Foss.

The local hospital said services are available to everyone. But clients are billed and rendered based on the patient's insurance and ability to pay.

But protestors said about 400 clients, most of them unable to pay medical bills will suffer.

"Just because I'm at hard times," said Lori Baker, "does not mean my health should be put at risk."

But Bill Menager does not think the county has any business in family planning.

"Why are we providing health care to individuals," said Menager, "the county is concerned with all the people in the county, not specific individuals."

But many clients in the Bitterroot said free or reduced health care now means traveling 30 to 60 miles.

"It scares me," said family planning supporter Verna Massey. "The only place that we can go is in Missoula."

Public health director Judy Griffin addressed the audience to rounds of applause.

"This will not be forgotten," said Griffin, "because this is a real slap in the face to women."

Protestors said this gathering is just the beginning.

They said we can expect more protests, a massive letter writing campaign, billboards, and maybe even a lawsuit.