News: Right to Birth Control

Kentucky candidates clash over access to contraception

Oct 10, 2002 at 2:06 pm
Wendy Uhlman

Sue Sampson says she'll defend funding for contraceptive services.

Northern Kentucky politics can be a hard pill to swallow when it comes to the issue of birth control.

The Northern Kentucky Independent Health District debated — and almost approved — a proposal to refuse federal funds for health clinics because they cover birth control pills and intrauterine devices (IUDs), which some claim are abortifacients, or abortion-causing agents. In June the board of the health district voted 14-13 to keep the funds.

But the battle over the program— commonly known as Title X funding — continues to be an issue in Kenton County election campaigns.

The health district includes Campbell, Boone, Grant and Kenton counties. The judge executive of each county appoints members to the board of the health district.

Before the May primary election, Northern Kentucky Right to Life sent questionnaires to candidates, asking if they would commit to appointing only health board members opposed to abortion. Right to Life's definition included language describing "the so-called 'standard birth control pill' " as a form of chemical abortion. Both Kenton County Judge Executive Richard Murgatroyd, a Republican seeking reelection, and his opponent, Patrick Hughes, a Democrat, answered yes. In other words, whoever wins the judge executive race believes the pill kills babies and has agreed to help oppose federal funding for the contraceptive.

But complicating the issue is the fact that candidates' answers aren't necessarily to be believed. Right to Life also asked, "Will you actively support ... legislation which prohibits all use of state, federal and/or Medicare funds for abortion (including chemical abortions, such as RU-486, or the so-called 'morning after pill,' or the so-called 'standard birth control pill'?) It is now acknowledged that the pharmaceutical manufacturers agree that the so-called 'standard birth control pill' carries an abortifacient function."

Dan Humpert, a Republican running for reelection as District One Kenton County Commissioner, answered yes. But now he says he should have looked at the questionnaire more carefully.

"I don't believe that birth control pills are abortifacients, no, but there are people in Kenton County who do," Humpert says.

The Kenton County Fiscal Court has passed a pro-life resolution, but it hedges on the question of whether birth control bills are abortifacients.

"The court has determined that at the present time the possibility of abortive effects of birth control pills cannot either be established or ruled out as a medical certainty," the resolution says.

Humpert voted for the resolution.

"That was a clause they put in the resolution to appease the Right-to-Lifers," he says.

The resolution gave guidance to the health district to continue with Title X funding, according to Humpert.

"In Kenton County, everything's pro-life," he says.

Humpert, however, did not receive an endorsement from Right to Life. His claim that he didn't read the group's questionnaire closely enough is disingenuous, according to Robert Cetrulo, president of Northern Kentucky Right to Life.

"It's called a political cop-out," he says.

The Right to Life newsletter blasted the fiscal court's resolution as a "sham."

"They wrap themselves in the pro-life flag with rhetoric but specifically decline to prohibit the use of county funds for 'these birth control methods' ... some of which are abortifacient ..." the newsletter says.

Sue Sampson, a Democrat, is challenging Humpert for the District One seat. She wants to see Title X funding continue.

"I am running as a pro-life candidate, but this issue has nothing to do with abortion," Sampson says.

Humpert says the Title X debate is a dead issue. But Sampson disagrees. The health board's vote was too close to ensure low-income families will continue to receive subsidized birth control, she says.

"The resolution to deny funding did not pass but it only didn't pass by one vote," Sampson says. "A lot of the women served by this are married. The people who are for it need people like me and the women who are involved in this to speak for them. These low- income women who need these services also need a voice and I would want to be that voice."

Besides birth control, Title X funding provides for reproductive health care such as breast cancer exams and pap smears. Clinics supported by Title X also provide a number of preventive health services, such as patient education and counseling, pelvic examination, screenings for sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy diagnosis and counseling.

"If you throw away Title X because of birth control, you're also throwing away all these other services," Sampson says.

Instead of answering the Northern Kentucky Right to Life questionnaire, Sampson says she sent the group a letter indicating she is pro-life.

Humpert says he isn't against Title X funding. But Sampson points to Humpert's answer on the questionnaire.

"You've got to stand on one foot or the other," she says. ©