It usually takes something spectacular for a single county commissioner to generate headlines across the state. For Ravalli County Commissioner Suzy Foss, all it took was one untimely absence and one controversial vote.
Earlier this month the five-person Ravalli County Commission began deliberating whether to accept nearly $50,000 in Title X federal grant money to provide family planning services. Foss was absent when the board deadlocked 2-2, and was then allowed to cast the deciding vote the next day. She rejected the funding, essentially eliminating basic services such as cervical cancer screenings, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and birth control to almost 500 Bitterroot residents.
The vote sparked outrage from health care experts and women’s rights advocates who accused the commission of playing politics to the detriment of constituents. Foss, the only woman on the commission, became the main target of criticism. Despite the negative attention, she’s defended her position and answered her critics.
“We have a large number of people on all sides of the aisle who have let me know they do not like anything that puts the federal government between a parent and a child,” she tells the Independent.
Though Foss has been accused of letting her faith guide her decision, she’s adamant that’s not the case. “This has nothing to do with religion,” she says. “Although, a lot of people are trying to say that.”
Religion does play into Foss’ Hail Mary solution for fixing the mess that she’s helped create. She suggests that, in light of the already overburdened federal budget, a local nonprofit should provide the necessary family planning services and they should be funded by—wait for it—local churches.
Ravalli County Public Heath Director Judy Griffin isn’t sure where to start when addressing such an idea. For starters, it’s unlikely that a privately funded nonprofit will simply sprout up to provide legally and ethically sound care. “It’s so illegal, it’s incredible,” Griffin says. She also points out that many of the concerns raised by Foss and her colleagues hardly apply; roughly 1 percent of the clients who accessed Title X services during the past year were minors and received counseling.
With the funding set to expire by Sept. 30, and public outcry only increasing, the Ravalli County Commission has scheduled another meeting about the federal grant for Sept. 20 at 8 a.m. The commission could yet reverse its decision. A large crowd will surely be there to ask that they do—and be watching as Foss casts her next vote.