Friday, October 17, 2014

Getting Family Planning Funding Straight

As I mentioned in my last post, in preparation for Election Day the Missoulian has been asking legislative candidates about their positions on a handful of critical issues, including whether or not the Legislature should “continue to approve federal money to family planning clinics, including Planned Parenthood.”

Now I admit that for me funding family planning adequately is a no-brainer, and in the interests of full disclosure I need to tell you that I served for several years on the board of Planned Parenthood here is Missoula, but really, it’s not just me; for all Montanans, this question is important. What’s at stake here is millions of federal Title X dollars that come to Montana to support family planning clinics that provide birth control, cancer screenings, HIV testing, fertility counseling and treatment, and a whole lot more.* Why would anyone not want to spend federal dollars for services like that?

Well, as it turns out, some Title X money goes to Planned Parenthood clinics that provide abortions. And that fact has provoked conservative Republican anti-choice legislators into  trying, repeatedly, to block all Title X funding for everyone, even though by Federal law no Title X money is, or can be, used to pay for abortion services. Best I can figure, these folks believe this money is tainted and shouldn’t be touched, but as abortion opponents, they’re biting off their noses to spite their faces: there surely can’t be any better way to respect the autonomy and privacy of women and at the same time prevent abortions than by avoiding unintended pregnancies in the first place.

So as I say, the issue is important and anyone running for public office should be able to come up with a decent answer when the Missoulian asks about it. I’m not saying a would-be legislator has to agree with me – for example, there’s certainly a place in the room for folks that think that family planning should be a private matter – but I do think that whatever the answer is, it should at least be sensible and reasonably well informed. Is that too much to ask of a person who wants to go to Helena, occupy a legislative seat, and make decisions critical to the welfare of his or her consituents?

Well, apparently it is, because at least three Republican** candidates’ answers that have appeared in the Missoulian don’t pass that test. Here’s what I’m talking about:

Rep. Ed Greef: Title X funds many good programs that benefit the health needs of women. These are important to our communities. It’s too bad the federal government includes abortion in the package, thus creating a situation of all or nothing in the package. Unreasonable tactic.

Brad Tschida
: I believe we should be using any available federal dollars paid to entities like Planned Parenthood to assist our seniors, veterans and special needs citizens. Money for the needs of those citizens is a far better use of such funds.

Gary Marbut: Federal funding? I am under the impression that Congress (in D.C.) approves federal funding, not the Legislature (in Helena).

So there you have it. When confronted with the critical question of whether or not the Legislature should continue to appropriate federal family planning money, one candidate, Greef, who is also a sitting legislator, says no, because he thinks the money pays for abortions, which it doesn’t. Another, Tschida, says no because he would rather spend the money on something other than family planning, apparently unaware of the fact the federal family planning money has to be spent on, well, family planning. And a third, Marbut, doesn’t think he needs to answer, because evidently he doesn’t know that the Legislature appropriates, and can chose not to appropriate if it wants, hundreds of millions of Federal dollars every biennium.

Come on. Don’t voters deserve better thought-out and more carefully informed answers than these from folks who want to represent them in Helena next January?

*You can learn more about the services these clinics provide, and find a clinic near you, at this Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services

** Actually, one of these guys, Gary Marbut, although he has run as a Republican in the past, this time around is running as an Independent. Against Kim Dudik, who will no doubt whup him about as badly as last time.