In reversal, board OKs contraceptive funding

Abigael Collins, 6, holds up a during a protest against New Hanover County Commissioners' original vote rejecting a state family planning grant. On Monday night, the commissioners voted on the grant again, this time accepting the funds. Photo by Jeff Janowski/StarNews

By Shannan Bowen
Copyright 2012
Reprinted with permission

Sitting before a standing-room-only audience Monday night, the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners narrowly voted to approve the state bonus money for contraceptive supplies – a controversial funding request that the board first turned down last month.

Commissioners Brian Berger and Jason Thompson were opposed to accepting the $8,899 bonus funding, which the health department planned to use to purchase intrauterine devices (IUDs), a long-acting form of birth control inserted directly into a woman’s uterus.

Last month, the five county commissioners voted unanimously to turn down the funds for contraceptive supplies after a couple of commissioners said they didn’t think taxpayers should foot the bill for IUDs that they argued would be used by women who were irresponsible with other family planning methods.

Before Monday’s vote, close to 100 people gathered by the steps of Wilmington’s historic courthouse to protest the commissioner’s earlier stance and urged the officials to reconsider.

Chairman Ted Davis attributed last month’s vote to a lack of information presented about the health department’s budget and the need for IUDs.

“This whole process took approximately six minutes,” he said about last month’s meeting. “I do not apologize for my vote, because I voted based on the information I had at that time.”

Davis then apologized for statements he made at the March meeting, including that the county wouldn’t be in the situation “if these young women were responsible people and didn’t have the sex to begin with.”

But Davis received applause from audience members – a majority attending in support of the funds – when he said Monday night, “I now realize that a woman is being responsible when she seeks contraception from the health department.”

County officials had received a flood of emails and calls about their denial of the funds, and Davis said he wanted to reconsider the funding request with more facts presented by health officials.

In a presentation about the health department, New Hanover County Health Director David Rice said more than 60 women were on a waiting list to receive IUDs for birth control, but the health department does not have any IUD devices in stock because the only staff members experienced in providing the service left the department last year. He added that the health department recently filled that provider’s position and can offer the service again.

But Davis pointed out that the county’s health department, which is funded by federal, state and local funds, already has the ability to purchase IUDs and other forms of birth control from its budget for supplies.

“It’s not about denying women access to contraception, because the health department has been providing this in the past and they have the capability to do it now,” he said.

During a public hearing after the health department’s presentation, five people had time to speak in the 15-minute limit in support of the commissioners accepting the funds. Only one person spoke against the commissioners accepting the funds.

Rebecca Trammel said she thought IUDs would encourage young people to take more sexual risks, and she emphasized that IUDs do not prevent sexually transmitted diseases.

In speaking in favor of the acceptance of the funds, Brandie Stork, a health care provider, urged officials to put politics aside when voting on the issue.

“The previous decision to reject this funding shows the members of this Board of Commissioners are seriously out of touch with the needs of New Hanover County voters,” she said to applause from the crowd.

Despite a turnabout by Commissioners Davis, Jonathan Barfield and Rick Catlin, Thompson said he opposed the motion to accept the funding because health officials did not answer questions he had about the department’s budget and supply stock.

Berger said he was concerned with the notion of using taxpayer money to fund the supplies.

“There is no bonus money,” he said. “It is taxpayer money that is simply being returned to the local community from the state after the state has taken their cut.”

Barfield had changed his mind about his position shortly after the March meeting, saying that a conversation with his wife helped him see his vote was wrong.

The commissioners’ decision last month provoked a local protest and national blogs and media criticized the vote. At the protest held an hour before Monday night’s meeting, politicians, candidates for office and activists chanted and held signs with slogans related to women’s rights.

Planned Parenthood staff members, who helped organize the protest, handed out pink shirts and passed around a petition in support of eliminating insurance co-payments for birth control.

Shawnetta Wilson, a University of North Carolina Wilmington student, gave her own rendition of the popular play The Vagina Monologues by including the county commissioners in the script.

“My vagina? It wants the county to stay out of it,” she said in closing.

Shannan Bowen: 343-2016

On Twitter: @shanbow

Copyright © 2012


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