Court rules Montana constitutionally required to pay for contraception for teens
HELENA, MONTANA, May 10, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) - A district judge ruled last Friday that the state of Montana was required by its constitution to pay for contraception as part of a government health care program for children.
The Healthy Montana Kids Program, which provides health coverage to children of families with incomes up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level, had previously funded birth control pills when used for non-contraceptive purposes, such as controlling acne or to regulate a girl’s period. Under an exemption written into the Montana Health and Human Services administrative rules, birth control pills prescribed to prevent pregnancy were not covered by the program.
Last week’s ruling overturning the HHS rule was a result of a lawsuit brought by Planned Parenthood of Montana. The organization argued in its complaint that the state was “interfer[ing] with young women’s abilities to make medical decisions about their health” by not paying for their birth control pills.
Siding with Planned Parenthood, District Judge James Reynolds held that Montana had “failed to provide a compelling state reason” for excluding contraception, and was violating a constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy.
“In this scheme, if you want to control your acne, your birth control is covered; if you want to avoid pregnancy and control your procreative autonomy, your birth control is not covered,” he wrote. “This turns the idea of the fundamental right of privacy on its head.”
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Planned Parenthood took the case to the courts after several attempts to amend the rule in the legislature were stopped by conservative law makers. One of those who blocked such efforts was State Senator Rick Laible, who publicly challenged the organization to make good on their position that teens have a right to free birth control by paying for it themselves.
Echoing Laible’s point, Jeff Laszloffy, President and CEO of the Montana Family Foundation, told LifeSiteNews that the issue was not one of “constitutional entitlement,” but rather a matter of who was shelling out the cash.
“The kids who are enrolled in the Healthy Montana Kids Program, their parents can be making as much as 250% of the poverty rate. I don’t think there’s really anyone out there that believes that a family of four making $57,000 a year can’t afford to pay $300 for their child’s birth control if they want them to be on birth control,” he said.
Laszloffy also said that Reynolds had taken privacy rights “too far,” and questioned the judge’s rejection of the state’s interest in excluding birth control.
“The state of Montana does have a compelling interest in enhancing the protection of minors, and the legislature felt that we should not be encouraging risky out of wedlock sex between 13 and 14 year old children,” he said.
Official reaction to the decision has been tight-lipped, but state officials must decide within 60 days whether they will appeal the decision.
According to an Associated Press report, Montana was previously one of only four states that did not cover contraception through their Children’s Health Insurance Program. The three other states are North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Texas.