Mountain Home Montana broke ground this summer on a new six-bedroom living facility for homeless teenage mothers in Missoula, paving the way toward doubling its ability to meet the needs of a growing number of impoverished young women. But Gypsy Ray, the nonprofit's executive director, says 12 beds can only help the situation, not solve it.
"Teenage pregnancy rates are on the rise, both in Montana and nationally," Ray says. "In fact, at Mountain Home in 2009...we had 91 referrals for six bedrooms. That's a problem. We're in the middle of a construction project to double our size to help meet that need a little better, but there's a bigger issue. We're the solution after the pregnancy has taken place. We need solutions to prevent teenage pregnancy."
That's exactly why Planned Parenthood Montana (PPM) filed its lawsuit against the state of Montana on Aug. 13, alleging that the state's 10-year-old prohibition of contraceptive coverage through the low-income Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) violates the Montana Constitution—specifically, a young woman's rights to privacy and equal protection. According to PPM's complaint, CHIP coverage of teen births costs at much as $700,000 a year. By comparison, birth control coverage would cost a mere $34,721 in fiscal year 2011.
"It's logical to assume that at least some portion of those 91 referrals could have been reduced had those young women had affordable access to birth control in the first place," says Niki Zupanic, public policy director for the American Civil Liberties Union, PPM's primary supporter in the case.
Attempts in the last two legislative sessions to overturn the ban in Montana law have failed due to heavy opposition from Republican legislators—most recently from Sen. Keith Bales, R-Otter. PPM and others are now hoping the courts will provide a verdict free of the religious considerations that have so far pervaded the issue.
"It is a medical issue," Ray says. "It's covered by other insurance programs including Medicaid. I don't understand why it's not covered by CHIP."