A Ravalli County woman recently sent a letter to commissioners pleading that they not defund the county's family planning clinic, which she's been relying on for 26 years.
"I received birth control pills when I couldn't afford them otherwise, pregnancy tests when I was ready to have a baby, TB testing when I was ready to rejoin the work force, an IUD when I decided I was finished having children, and continue to utilize their services for my yearly health exams," she wrote. Now she has insurance, but continues to visit the clinic "because I trust their staff to provide me with unbiased information that is in MY best interest."
But the right-wing ideologues on the Ravalli County Commission don't seem to have its residents' best interests in mind. It's considering refusing a $39,000 Title X grant that's supported the family planning portion of Ravalli County's public health office dating back to the Nixon Administration. The clinic offers breast and pelvic exams, breast and cervical cancer screening, STD screening and treating, HIV testing and counseling, and pregnancy testing and counseling.
Some commissioners believe it isn't the government's role to provide such services. On Thursday, it could vote to reject the federal money that's already been set aside. If they do, says Judy Griffin, Ravalli County's director of public health, "it's the demise of the family planning clinic."
In 2010, the clinic served 461 patients, 78 percent of whom live in poverty.
Closing the clinic would also contradict the fiscal conservatism the commissioners so loudly profess. According to the non-partisan, nonprofit think tank The Brookings Institution, every dollar invested in family planning saves taxpayers more than five dollars down the road. "Given the strong cost-saving properties of these subsidies," Brookings researchers write, "they ought to be particularly appealing to fiscal conservatives who are concerned about our yawning national debt and the burden that it will place on current and future generations of taxpayers."
Not in Ravalli County, says Darby resident Mary Moore. "It has nothing to do with cost cutting or taking federal funding. It's just placing their religion and their moral values on us. That's what it boils down to."
"We really value family values here in our office," says Griffin, adding that the clinic teaches abstinence and encourages teens to talk with their parents. But she also tells of girls whose parents would beat them if they learned their daughter used birth control, and instances of rape and incest.
"The bottom line is, everybody doesn't live in a perfect world."