CHIP and Contraception: Legislative Interference in Montana


Planned Parenthood of Montana is suing the state over a law that prevents the Children’s Health Insurance Plan from covering contraception. This is a serious lapse, as about 2,000 young women ages 15 and over are covered by CHIP, according to Planned Parenthood.

More importantly, the need among these teenagers is great. About half are sexually active, according to survey data, and Stacey Anderson, director of public affairs for PP Montana, points out that Montana has one of the highest teen-pregnancy rates in the country. (Drug Policy Central is carrying the Helena Independent Record’s coverage of the lawsuit.)  

Montana is one of only four states—along with North Dakota, Pennsylvania, and Texas—that have legislative bans on the coverage of contraceptives by CHIP. After working during the past several legislative sessions to change the law, to no avail, Planned Parenthood is alleging in the suit that the law is discriminatory. The Great Falls Tribune reports:

Members of [Planned Parenthood] believe the law discriminates against young women on the basis of gender, which would violate the Montana Constitution, the Montana Human Rights Act and the state’s unisex insurance law.

 

This year, the legislature came agonizingly close to removing the ban, but the provision was abandoned during eleventh-hour dealmaking. 

Here’s why lawmakers think it’s a good idea to deny contraception to young women:

Senate Majority Leader Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, said . . . it was an important issue for many Republicans, who believe in sexual abstinence before marriage.

I’ll refrain from saying how believable I find this claim to be. In any case, it’s difficult to see the connection between a lawmaker’s personal belief and state health policy.

Plenty of anti-choice groups in the state are weighing in as well. Jeff Laszloffy, president of the Montana Family Foundation, claims that

The ban makes sense because government shouldn’t encourage teenagers to engage in pre-marital sex, which is risky behavior that can lead not only to unwanted pregnancies, but also sexually transmitted diseases.

 

Laszloffy employs a classic tactic of the right, reversing the dynamics of control. The matter at hand is a ban enacted by the state legislature, which prevents people from getting a health service they need. Politicians on the right are clearly and directly interfering with health care that the government is capable of providing. Laszloffy, however, casts Planned Parenthood as the intruders, as a group intent on making the world in its image.

The truth is that Planned Parenthood responds to the world as it is. It responds to the need for reproductive health care, a need which far preceded Planned Parenthood. Premarital sex is not a product of Planned Parenthood—but the consequences Laszloffy mentions, unplanned pregnancy and STDs, are indeed products of the failure to address sexual health in youths. Groups like the Montana Family Foundation are responsible for these failures because they would like to make the world in their image, punishing sexuality and denying the need for sexual health services.

Gregg Trude of Right to Life Montana has this to say about Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit:

“Planned Parenthood has their own agenda and people need to look and see, what is their agenda.”

I’m looking, and I’m seeing: the prevention of teen pregnancy? Reducing the need for teen abortions? Regarding this “agenda,” at least one Montana Republican has his head screwed on straight:

Sen. John Brueggeman, R-Polson, who was among those leading the effort at the 2009 Legislature to remove the ban, said he’s always been "pro-life," and that contraception is a realistic way to reduce abortion.

For the past ten years, while this ban has been in effect, the State Legislature has been sending quite a different message to young women who cannot afford private insurance: contraception is not realistic, or acceptable, for you. Good luck.

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