Cross-posted with permission from the Colorado Independent.
Colorado’s Weld County Board on Monday renewed a 2010 policy that prevented county health clinics funded by the federal Title X women’s health program from dispensing Plan B emergency contraception to their mostly young and low-income patients.
The conservative commissioners behind the policy have argued Plan B aborts fertilized eggs, despite expert medical testimony to the contrary.
It’s a local version of a national abortion-politics debate, where outdated views of the science behind emergency contraception enjoy an ideologically useful afterlife.
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Dr. Mark Wallace, director of the Weld County Health Department, has offered testimony on several occasions to the board in which he explained that Plan B works by preventing the sperm and the egg from meeting, heading off fertilization, not by destroying fertilized eggs. Wallace’s position is the one advanced by the Office of Population Affairs behind Title X and the one supported unequivocally by current medical research.
At Monday’s public hearing, which drew dozens of county citizens, board commissioners also cited financial reasons for the policy decision, pointing to the loss of roughly $50,000 in private grant money this year.
It was the second time this spring that a board meeting attracted citizens opposed to the Plan B policy. At a meeting in March, commissioners told protesters to return in May, when the board would be considering renewing the more than $100,000 Title X grant.
At the March meeting, one member of the public asked the board to signal with a show of hands who among them still believed that Plan B caused abortions, despite expert testimony on the science and media coverage of the political debate. The commissioners declined to answer.
Citizens testifying in support of the policy on Monday, however, didn’t hesitate to voice their concerns with the drug.
The Greeley Tribune quotes Elizabeth Johnson of Eaton telling the board that, “depending on when it’s administered,” Plan B can abort a fertilized egg. “I recommend our commissioners err on the side of the conservative and remember that this is not a public opinion poll … and remember that tax dollars shouldn’t be supplied for an abortive agent.”
Weld County resident Pat Bruner told the Independent she thought the main motivation driving the board’s Plan B policy was moral objection to contraception. She said Commissioner Doug Rademacher was prodded into a revealing “sort of hissy fit” by the citizens protesting the policy.
Rademacher said he didn’t believe government should provide birth control to anyone. Then he asked the commissioners to vote against accepting this year’s Title X grant, a popular program that includes exams for breast and cervical cancer in addition to family planning services.
Rademacher later backed off that position and voted to accept the grant.
“If Title X was just for birth control, I would be voting that down,” the Tribune quoted him to say.
Bruner said she thought that Rademacher’s birth-control speech came off as a threat, which she said “felt inappropriate” coming from an official elected to represent the public.
“It was like a kind of blackmail, like if we didn’t stop talking about Plan B, then [the commissioners] would get rid of all public women’s health care.”