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Why Are We Speculating About The Effects Of Defunding Planned Parenthood, When We’ve Already Witnessed The Disastrous Consequences?

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In response to the release of a series of deceptively edited videos created by anti-abortion activists, a group of right-wing Republican lawmakers are trying to push through a bill to defund Planned Parenthood, the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of comprehensive sex education.

In an effort to downplay the consequences of their actions, Republicans and right-wing media have been pushing the claim that other community health centers could fill the gap if Planned Parenthood loses funding — an idea that the American Public Health Association called “ludicrous.”  The problem with the GOP’s claim is that it ignores just how many more patients — particularly low-income women — Planned Parenthood serves than other clinics. 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.”

Planned Parenthood also offers services in places where other family planning clinics simply don’t exist. In about one-fifth of the counties it serves — an estimated 103 counties nationwide — Planned Parenthood is the only provider of publicly funded contraceptives and family planning services. In another 229 counties, Planned Parenthood serves the vast majority of low-income women who qualify for government help paying for birth control.

While community health centers are frequently stretched to capacity, Planned Parenthood often has the capability to provide more efficient and higher-quality reproductive health care at an affordable cost. Already, more than two-thirds of states in the country report having difficulty ensuring provider participation with Medicaid programs, and approximately half of the states report challenges ensuring specialty providers — including OB/GYNs — for Medicaid programs. During the Senate debate earlier this year, the California Primary Care Association wrote that defunding Planned Parenthood would place “untenable stress” on their facilities. But you don’t have to take their word for it — we’ve already seen it happen in several states, and the fallout was not pretty:

  • INDIANA: In 2011, Indiana attempted to defund Planned Parenthood and has since so dramatically slashed funding that five clinics, all of which offered HIV testing, were forced to close. In March of this year, GOP Governor Mike Pence declared a state of emergency in the state of Indiana, as the result of an unprecedented outbreak of HIV. The outbreak’s epicenter was Scott County, once home to one of the five closed Planned Parenthood health centers, which also happened to be the county’s sole HIV testing center. The clinic had never provided abortion services, so shutting it down had no impact whatsoever on abortion. It did, however, leave Indiana grappling with the state’s largest-ever HIV outbreak — a “glaring example of the kind of public health crisis that results when prevention and testing are left unfunded,” said Patti Stauffer, Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky’s vice president for public policy.

  • TENNESSEE: Planned Parenthood had served Shelby County, Tennessee’s Title X clients for 30 years, but in 2011 the county decided to give the contract to Christ Community Health Services, a religious organization that will not provide abortions or contraception, and will not refer patients to any provider who will offer abortions. In the months following this change, Shelby County saw a drop of more than 90% in the monthly number of patients served — from approximately 719 per month seen at Planned Parenthood to 51 per month at Christ Community. And nobody at CCHS can account for the loss. Where those women are obtaining birth control, pap smears, STI testing, immunizations and other preventive services offered by Planned Parenthood– not to mention safe and legal abortion services — remains a mystery. As Women’s Health News points out, this is a great case study in what happens when governments decide to reallocate family planning funds to groups that aren’t really all that interested in family planning.

  • TEXAS: The Republican-controlled Texas legislature slashed the family planning budget by two-thirds in 2011, and 53 clinics were forced to close. The Planned Parenthood health centers that were forced out of Texas’ Women’s Health Program for low-income state residents served nearly half of the program’s clients. According to researchers at George Washington University, Texas’ remaining facilities would be forced to increase their caseloads by 2-5 times to fill that gap — something that they didn’t have the capacity to do. Moreover, many of these clinics were simply uninterested and unwilling to become family-planning providers for low-income women, leaving many Texas women without an option for affordable care. As a result of Texas’ efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, 54% fewer patients received care and experts were anticipating nearly 24,000 unplanned births between 2014-2015 alone, raising state and federal taxpayers Medicaid costs by $273 million. When The Texas Observer asked providers what they thought about the cuts, the response was nearly unanimous. “They said in hoping to punish Planned Parenthood, politicians had gone too far, with devastating consequences for women’s health. Lawmakers, they said, had thrown the ‘baby out with the bath water,'” The Texas Observer reported. Even some Republican lawmakers have come to regret the move, realizing “that these massive cuts adversely affected women and were a mistake,” according to Dallas News.

Over the past several decades, Planned Parenthood has become a buzzword for anti-choice Republicans who seek to equate Planned Parenthood clinics with death and destruction. However, we don’t have to look far to see that the real destruction is wreaked when overarching, politically-motivated attacks on women’s health providers leave low-income women with no affordable contraceptive options, no available STI tests, no regular cancer screenings, and no control over their reproductive health.

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