Protesters object to federal proposal to cut women's services, other programs
Ashley Stevick, left, holds signs while attending a protest against federal proposals to cut women's services Thursday at 7th Ave. and Main.

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A few dozen people picketed a Bozeman intersection Thursday protesting a Republican-backed federal budget proposal that they say cuts too much from Planned Parenthood, AmeriCorps and national parks.

Ashley Stevick, 28, waved both an American flag and a sign that read, "Because of Planned Parenthood I didn't need an abortion" at the intersection of Seventh Avenue and Main Street.

"This whole idea of cutting the budget by cutting programs that save people money is ridiculous," said Stevick, a former Planned Parenthood employee and AmeriCorps volunteer who organized Thursday's noontime Montana Matters! rally. "We need breast cancer screenings and cervical cancer screenings and contraception."

The proposal she and other protesters opposed, HR 1, contains $60 billion in cuts from last year's spending level. HR 1 passed the House last month, but on Wednesday the Senate rejected the measure. Lawmakers are negotiating a compromise to fund the federal government for the remainder of the fiscal year 2011.

Congress failed to pass a budget for 2011 last year and since then has approved three continuing resolutions to keep the government solvent. If officials can't come to a consensus, the federal government may miss the March 18 deadline to pass a continuing resolution, and parts of the federal government may shut down.

Stevick said the cuts Republicans proposed in HR 1 would eliminate $2.5 million in family planning funding for Montana, impacting Gallatin Valley organizations such as Bridger Clinic, a Bozeman nonprofit that offers reproductive health care on a sliding-fee scale.

Emily Freeman, a graduate student at Montana State University and a health education volunteer for Bridger Clinic, attended the protest, waving a sign that read, "Get out of my pants GOP." Freeman, 22, said HR 1 would cut the clinic's annual funding by $50,000 to $80,000.

"Before I started going to Bridger Clinic, I was paying like $50 a month for birth control, and that's really a lot of money for a student," said Trish McGurk, 21.

McGurk, a junior at MSU from Pony and president of Students for Choice, held a sign that read, "I stand with Planned Parenthood."

Cuts to AmeriCorps, a national service organization, would mean Montana's programs would lose $15.1 million and 9,100 jobs, Stevick said.

"Republicans are talking about fixing jobs, and yet they voted for this thing that's going to cut thousands of them," she said.

Jim Donahue, 60, was one of a handful of men protesting. He held a sign that said, "Montana needs AmeriCorps."

Donahue, of New York, said his daughter is a former AmeriCorps volunteer who now works at MSU coordinating the program. She couldn't make Thursday's rally, so he went in her place while he's visiting her in Bozeman.

"To think that they would cut a program that does so much community involvement for next to nothing is pretty ridiculous," Donahue said.

Wildlife and open lands in Montana would suffer, too, Stevick said, due to the $4.4 billion reduction proposed to the Department of the Interior and Environmental Protection Agency.

Some of Thursday's Protesters held signs saying Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., doesn't support Montana. Rehberg voted in favor of HR 1.

Rehberg said cuts are necessary and that, with Republican victories in November's elections, voters sent a message that they want budget cuts.

"Many of us warned that reckless deficits would have painful consequences - and that it would hurt funding for good programs that help people," Rehberg said in an e-mailed statement Thursday. "Yet over our objections, the money continued to pour out the doors to fund boondoggles like stimulus signs."

The federal government reported a $222.5 billion deficit last month, as it spent $333.2 billion but brought in only $110.7 billion in revenue, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. The second-highest deficit in U.S. history was $220.9 billion in February 2010.

"We've sunk so far in the hole that there literally isn't enough money to fund many of the things that we could have previously afforded," Rehberg said. "Unfortunately, in many cases, good programs will be impacted like the bad ones. But the clarion call to stop overspending is too important to ignore. In fact, we cannot ignore it."

Amanda Ricker can be reached at aricker@dailychronicle.com or 582-2628.

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