Riley County Commission Chairman Ron Wells did citizens of this county a service Monday when he admonished his fellow commissioners, Ben Wilson and Marvin Rodriguez, for citing religious and social reasons for their reluctance last Thursday to support the Riley County Health Department’s quest for state grant funding for family planning.
Commissioner Wells’ comments Monday underscored his observations last week when he reminded Commissioners Wilson and Rodriguez that commissioners are not elected to act as the “moral police” for county residents.
No less troubling than Commissioner Wilson’s and Rodriguez’s uninformed bias was their inability to grasp that investing taxpayer money in family planning — and yes, in contraception — doesn’t cost the county or the state money, at least not in the long run. On the contrary, such investments save money, sometimes a lot of it, by preventing family tragedies.
It’s astonishing that a county commissioner would balk at providing contraceptives at no charge for those who can’t afford them, given that the alternative could well be years of public assistance for children whose parents cannot support them and too often are not interested in rearing children.
Commissioner Rodriguez seems to think that in protecting the public health by providing condoms, the health department is encouraging irresponsible behavior that leads to sexually transmitted diseases. The opposite is true. And Mr. Wilson needs to brush up on his sex education before he suggests that IUDs (intrauterine birth control devices) abort unwanted pregnancies; they prevent them.
Commissioners last week did agree to apply for grants from the Kansas Department of Health and Environment but indicated they would consider specific allocations if the county gets grant money. The grants would require a 40-percent county match.
As Jennifer Green, health department director, told commissioners last week, 1,191 women and 237 men received contraceptive services last year, a year in which the department also administered 1,700 tests to determine whether residents had STDs. Those services matter because with thousands of sexually active college students and a large number of young soldiers, Riley County has among the highest STD rates in the state. The health department isn’t part of that problem; it’s part of the solution.
This unfortunate episode stemmed from commissioners’ ignorance about health department operations and specifically about the role family planning plays in public health.
Fortunately, there’s a treatment for ignorance, one that hopefully will lead to wiser decisions regarding the investment of modest amounts of public funding for family planning.