Weld County will continue to prohibit Plan B, an emergency contraceptive, in its health clinics, commissioners decided Monday.
At a hearing to approve state and federal grants that provide family planning and preventative care, commissioners said they would stand by their 2010 decision to keep Plan B out of county health clinics, which they have said is an abortive agent. Plan B is also referred to as the morning-after pill.
Several dozen Weld County residents attended Monday’s hearing, with 14 people commending commissioners for their decision and 19 asking them to reconsider.
Commissioners unanimously approved the grants and excluded Plan B. Weld County Commissioner Barbara Kirkmeyer, the only woman on the county’s five-person board and the only member who initially pushed back against the measure, had an excused absence because she was attending a family funeral.
The Title X Family Planning grant program that commissioners approved funds contraceptive services, supplies and information on birth control and other health services, with priority given to low-income and uninsured families, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Weld commissioners approved that grant alongside a privately funded state grant called the Colorado Family Planning Initiative for a combined sum of $193,000. The money will be put to use at the county’s two health clinics in Greeley and Longmont.
Weld County Commissioner Doug Rademacher questioned the role of the government in providing birth control, and initially suggesting that the board not approve the grant at all. He later said he would vote for the grants because they provide services such as the HPV vaccine, which can help prevent cervical cancer.
“If Title X was just for birth control, I would be voting that down,” Rademacher said.
Women who request emergency contraception at the county health clinic are referred to a pharmacy, to a personal health care provider or to the Planned Parenthood clinic in Greeley. But opponents of the Plan B ban said they worry low-income women will not have access to the pill because it can cost up to $60 at pharmacies and because many low-income women do not have personal physicians or insurance.
Weld County Commission chairman Bill Garcia said the public comments highlighted issues that can’t be solved by emergency contraception alone, including poverty and sexual violence. He questioned Weld County’s role in directly providing birth control, as well.
“If you’re hungry and you show up at the doors of Weld County government, unless we have some cookies or something for you, we don’t have a food bank here,” he said.
Commissioners also pointed to a reduction in the grant the county will receive this year, $50,000 less than what the county normally receives, as a reason why it would be particularly difficult to reintroduce Plan B to the system. Mark Wallace, director of Weld County’s health department, said the reduction comes from a tapering off of the private grant. He said the county will likely reduce the number of supplies it offers to clinic visitors at no cost, such as long-term birth control devices, which can cost several hundred dollars.
Garcia in March said the decision to stop distributing Plan B was mostly financial because women can find the pill elsewhere. He added that he thought commissioners were worried allowing Plan B could derail the county’s Title X funding because the government can’t fund abortions.
Wallace said it’s difficult to price what the county would pay for Plan B pills since it has not purchased them for three years, but he said the county is eligible for a program that offers the pills at a discount of 25 to 70 percent. He did not say what the average price is that pharmaceutical companies charge suppliers for the pill. Once Plan B reaches retail pharmacies, it can cost women up to $60, Wallace said.
Earlier this year, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains sent an email blast to concerned parties asking them to call on Weld commissioners to rescind their 2010 decision. In March, a group of Weld residents presented commissioners with a letter signed by almost 200 people asking them to allow Plan B. They returned on Monday, stretching the hearing to about two hours long.
“Plan B does not stop development of a fetus after contraception,” said Priscilla Resendiz, a Greeley resident and one of the group’s organizers. She said Title X provides funding for Plan B, so it can’t be an abortive agent because the government can’t fund abortions.
Others told commissioners they should not offer the pill, including three girls in their early-teens, a woman who had an abortion and said it derailed her mental health and a woman who went through with her pregnancy and advocates for others to do the same.
“Depending on when it is administered, it can delay ovulation, but once conception occurs, it does stop it,” Elizabeth Johnson of Eaton said of Plan B. “I recommend that 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.”
According to the Office of Population Affairs — the federal agency responsible for implementing Title X — emergency contraception, including Plan B, prevents pregnancy by inhibiting ovulation or by causing cervical mucus to thicken, which blocks the sperm from reaching the egg. The pills have higher concentrations of the hormones normally found in birth control pills.