HELENA — Planned Parenthood of Montana has sued the state for denying teen girls access to birth control through Montana's low-income health insurance program.
Montana Public Radio reported that teens insured through CHIP, part of Healthy Montana Kids, cannot obtain birth control if it's being used only to prevent pregnancy, though they can get birth control to treat acne or heavy menstrual cycles.
Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union say the selective denial of birth control is a violation of privacy and equal protection rights in the state constitution.
"It includes the ability to make medical decisions, with your doctor, without interference from the government," said Niki Zupanic of the ACLU.
About 25,000 children are insured through Healthy Montana Kids, and about 10 percent of them are girls ages 15 to 19.
A hearing has been set for May, meaning the Legislature could take up the matter before it reaches a courtroom, when lawmakers convene in January.
Funding for contraceptive coverage was pulled from a last-minute budget deal struck by the 2009 Legislature. Republican Sen. Keith Bales, one of the negotiators, said most Republicans believe the use of contraceptives should be a matter decided between youths and their parents.
"Having said that, the government shouldn't be financing contraceptives for youth, because then that circumvents the family," Bales said.
But Democratic Rep. Chuck Hunter of Helena said the state would see a financial benefit by preventing teen pregnancies.
CHIP covers the cost of prenatal care, delivery and postnatal care for teen mothers. The state paid for 43 teen births last year, spending more than $720,000 to do so, according to state documents.
"If you're a Medicaid family or a family with private health insurance, it's still a family issue. Families routinely discuss this with their children. But the fact is, CHIP families are prevented from having that discussion because there's no benefit available to them," Hunter said.