History is repeating itself as Republicans are, once again, using the threat of a government shutdown to wage war against women’s health. In April 2011, Republicans in Congress nearly shut down the federal government over demands to defund Planned Parenthood. Now they are threatening to do the same thing unless Congress agrees to revoke federal funding for one of the nation’s leading providers of low-cost health care for low-income women and families. Although their attempt to defund Planned Parenthood failed in the Senate last week, the partisan attacks on women’s access to critical health services – including by the 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls – show no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
It’s important to point out here that federal funding is not used to pay for any abortion-related services, at Planned Parenthood or any other organization. And despite what anti-choice activists might want you to believe, abortion services only account for 3% of the services provided by Planned Parenthood each year. But the real irony of this backward anti-choice tactic is this: Defunding Planned Parenthood wouldn’t just limit women’s access to preventive health care like cancer screenings, well-woman exams, and STI testing and treatment; it would also prevent millions of women from accessing contraception that prevents unintended pregnancies, 40% of which end in abortion.
In 2013, federal funding for family planning and other critical health care services for low-income and uninsured Americans, known as Title X funding, averted nearly 1 million unplanned pregnancies and prevented 345,000 abortions.
The inevitable result will be an increase in the number of abortions. The basic math behind this is indisputable: Less birth control coverage means more unintended pregnancies, and more unintended pregnancies mean more abortions.
Defunding the 700+ Planned Parenthood clinics across the country would also have devastating repercussions for millions of Americans who rely on them for other critical health care services, including cancer screening and infectious disease testing and treatment in their clinics. Each year, Planned Parenthood delivers 10.6 million services including 400,000 cervical cancer screenings, 500,000 breast exams, 4.5 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, among millions of other vital health services. Those most affected by shuttering the doors of these clinics are low-income women and families, disproportionately women and families of color. But this context is often ignored by those seeking to defund Planned Parenthood and the services it provides.
And those who claim other health clinics and providers could simply step in to offer care to those affected by permanently closing Planned Parenthood’s doors are ignoring the facts. Of the 6.7 million women who rely on Title X programs to pay for contraceptives, 2.4 million of them — 36 percent — do so at a Planned Parenthood clinic. On average, each Planned Parenthood clinic serves 2,950 birth control patients per year, compared with just 750 seen at public health centers and 330 at federally qualified health centers.
“To put it another way,” writes Vox’s Sarah Kliff, “Planned Parenthood clinics comprise only 10 percent of publicly funded contraceptive clinics — but see 36 percent of patients who use the government birth control programs.”
Moreover, half of Planned Parenthood clinics are located in rural or underserved areas, often where there are no other sexual health providers for hundreds of miles.
But we don’t need to speculate about what would happen if Republicans defund Planned Parenthood — we’ve already seen it happen it several states. The results? A massive HIV-outbreak, huge reductions in the number of women receiving pap smears, and a spike in unintended pregnancies.
The recent attacks on Planned Parenthood – including the release of deceptively-edited videos, as well as Congressional Republicans’ threats to shut down the government – reveal the deep disconnect between the highly-charged political rhetoric deployed to defund clinics and deny women health care and the real-world health needs of women and their families. They also confirm, once again, what we have known for some time now: that anti-abortion lawmakers aren’t actually interested in reducing abortion — they’re only interested in restricting women’s reproductive rights.
Anyone who truly wants to see the abortion rate go down should be outraged by these efforts to defund Planned Parenthood — an organization that has done more to reduce abortions than any anti-choice organization, lawmaker, or activist ever will.