The latest fight over Obamacare has only just begun. On Thursday, Speaker Paul Ryan announced that in Republicans' efforts to repeal Obamacare, Planned Parenthood would be stripped of funding amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars, sparking protest among women's rights advocates and organizations.
Ryan confirmed to reporters that the measure to defund Planned Parenthood is included in the GOP's reconciliation bill, which will allow it to sidestep a Senate filibuster. According to the Washington Post, Congress could pass the legislation as early as February.
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Planned Parenthood uses its reported $500 million in government funding — consisting of federal, state and sometimes local money — each year to provide health care services for primarily low-income women, including cancer screening, maternity care, and STD testing. As one of the largest health care providers in the country, its centers also offer abortion services, making it the chief target for anti-abortion lawmakers who argue that defunding Planned Parenthood is a moral issue. All this despite abortion being a legal medical procedure, and despite the Hyde Amendment banning health care providers from using federal money to carry out abortion procedures. So in reality, denying funding to Planned Parenthood will have a devastating effect on its ability to provide basic health care services to the women who rely on them.
That Planned Parenthood provides health care to low-income communities and the uninsured should be a no-brainer — except that this fact often gets lost amid the furor of anti-abortion rhetoric. For Alina Suriel, who was uninsured but needed birth control, Planned Parenthood was a lifeline. Even then, she told A Plus, it was expensive, "but it was a huge priority for me so I made it work."
The strategy to defund Planned Parenthood seems curiously counter-productive: it would take away many women's access to affordable birth control and potentially increase the rates of unwanted pregnancies and, subsequently, abortions. Suriel said accessing birth control at Planned Parenthood was imperative in her not having to make the difficult decision to get an abortion.
"I am absolutely pro-choice, but I know that it would have been emotionally difficult for me to go through that and a lot of people in my family wouldn't approve," she said. "I would have to keep that secret forever from certain people."
As primarily a women's health care provider, Planned Parenthood often caters to students. In college, Erica Siudzinski frequented a center close to her school because it was free and convenient. "I first went there for a surefire pregnancy test because I was panicked and needed the test ASAP," she recalled. "Any OB/GYN in the city would've probably been booked or very difficult to get into. Since then I've gotten breast exams and then one 'can you check out this lump on my vagina' situation."
What Planned Parenthood centers in each state are able to provide depends on how anti-abortion their politicians are. In Texas, for example, state lawmakers have so aggressively targeted Planned Parenthood that only a dozen clinics are left, even though most locations don't even provide abortion services.
Jessica Johnnes, who accessed birth control and routine checkups at Planned Parenthood in New York at almost no cost, recently moved to Colorado, where she said she's noticed the difference in what its centers can do for their patients. "Planned Parenthood doesn't get the same kind of funding [in Colorado] and the state legislature is always trying to find ways to provide less," she said, "so it's pretty expensive even with the payment plans."
The consequences of defunding Planned Parenthood are clear. "[There are] more than a million-and-a-half people who rely on Planned Parenthood, and for most of them we're their only medical provider," the group's president, Cecile Richards, said in a Rolling Stone interview published days before Ryan's announcement. "As all of the medical institutions have said: There's no one to take our place providing low- and moderate-income people with preventive health care."
The public tussle between the GOP and Planned Parenthood has alerted many women seeking low-cost health care to its services. At least, that's how Suriel came to know about Planned Parenthood. "I wouldn't have known where else to go for low cost health services," she said. "Ironically, the well publicized struggle to defund Planned Parenthood has probably made it the most well-known place to get reproductive health services."
Many patients I spoke to described Planned Parenthood in near-affectionate, even protective terms.
Liz McLean, who has been to Planned Parenthood for various procedures, including an abortion, said that it was her "go-to" for any reproductive health concerns she's had. "I could go to an urgent care clinic for the same treatment, but there is never a guarantee there will be a doctor on staff who specializes in women's health," she added. "I see [Planned Parenthood] as reliable, honest and affordable."
Planned Parenthood has made clear their commitment to meet these political battles head-on. Despite the "serious threat" from the incoming administration, Richards said, "We can win — and we will not go without a fight."
Cover image via Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com.