HELENA — A Montana nonprofit is slated to replace the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) as the sole administrator of federal Title X funds. The change follows the 2021 Legislature passing a law limiting how DPHHS can interact with organizations that offer abortions.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced a $2.025 million award to Bridgercare, a nonprofit based in Bozeman, to support a statewide network of Title X providers known as Montana Family Planning beginning April 1, 2022.
DPHHS had been the distributor for Title X funding for the past 50 years. However, the 2021 Legislature passed House Bill 620 which prohibited DPHHS from entering into a contract with organizations that offered federally-qualified abortions, conflicting with federal guidance for funding distribution.
Bridgercare said in a press release the awarded money ensures that new state restrictions on Title X funding and services designed to exclude Bridgercare and other committed and experienced providers will have no impact on the delivery of Title X services to the people of Montana.
“What they introduced with House Bill 620 was a tiered approach where they prioritized nonprofit family planning centers last in who should be funded through Title X,” said Bridgercare Executive Director Stephanie McDowell.
Title X is the only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services. Funds cannot be used for abortions as a method of family planning. However, clinics that provide broad family planning and well as abortion or abortion-related services are still eligible to receive those funds.
Bridgercare does not provide abortions, although they do offer post-abortion care
In a statement to MTN, DPHHS said it was disappointed with the federal government's decision not to renew funding for the state program.
"We recognize, however, that recent pro-abortion federal rule changes have distorted Title X and conflict with Montana law, as well as the Gianforte administration's priority of expanding primary care."
The rule change DPHHS is referring to is an October 2021 rule by the Biden administration that reversed a 2019 Trump administration rule that prohibited Title X funds from going to any program that offered family planning and referred to organizations that offered abortion.
Montana Family Planning’s Title X network will launch with 8 providers operating 16 service sites, with the capacity to serve more than 20,000 clients in the first year of the project. Montana Planned Parenthood will return to the Title X network with the new change.
“We are delighted that our vision for a Title X project that emphasizes quality, equity, and dignity for all Montanans was selected following a competitive application process. We look forward to building upon our 50 years of Title X experience by increasing access to quality family planning services for those in need across Montana,” said McDowell. “We are humbled by this demonstration of confidence in our ability to establish and administer the Title X project with fairness, efficiency, and transparency, and we intend to work cooperatively with the Montana DPHHS and HHS to ensure an orderly transition.”
McDowell says the vast majority of the $2.025 million they've been awarded will go to program funding for Title X recipients with them already securing separate funding for most of their administrative costs. They have 30 days to submit their budget to HHS for approval.
Editor's Note: This article has been updated to clarify the 2019 Trump administration rule.