HELENA — It took three tries Friday, but Republicans on a House budget panel finally voted to cut from the state health budget $4.6 million in federal family-planning funds, part of which go to Planned Parenthood of Montana.
Rep. Ron Ehli, R-Hamilton, the panel’s chairman, said he voted to cut the funds because he can’t support sending public money to an organization — Planned Parenthood — that supports abortion.
“I’ve always struggled with the funding for this (program), and the fact that I know that some of this money goes to providers who don’t do abortions, but that some of it goes to providers who do support abortions,” he said.
The $4.6 million in federal Title X funds currently go to more than a dozen health clinics around the Montana, paying for things like birth control, breast exams and screening for cervical cancer. The clinics primarily serve low-income women.
Planned Parenthood of Montana operates several of the clinics. While Planned Parenthood also performs abortions, federal law prohibits any of the Title X money from paying for abortions.
Richard Opper, director of the state Department of Public Health and Human Services, said after the final vote Friday evening that he’ll fight to restore the money as the state budget moves through the Legislature.
“Women need this money to pay for health care services they need,” he said. “The money does not go to provide abortions, period.”
The Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services voted 4-2 to remove the funding from Opper’s agency’s budget, on a party-line vote with Republicans in favor. The panel’s recommendation is forwarded to the full House Appropriations Committee, which will vote on the state’s overall budget bill next month — including whether to keep the family-planning money out of the budget.
Ehli tried to remove the family-planning money initially Friday morning, but his motion failed on a 5-1 vote. Sen. Jason Priest, R-Red Lodge, later asked the panel to reconsider that action, but that motion failed on a 3-3 vote, with Sen. Roger Webb, R-Billings, joining the panel’s two Democrats to block it.
Yet the subcommittee decided to meet once again late Friday afternoon, to reconsider its earlier vote on the family-planning money and other items. It finally voted 4-2 to remove the family-planning money.
Ehli said there was confusion on the part of some members about what they were voting on in the morning, so he decided to reconvene the panel for further action.