The debate about defunding Planned Parenthood should not be about abortion; rather it should focus on the specter of losing valuable, preventive healthcare services that this organization provides with great efficiency to 2.5 million women (and men) every year.
The Hyde Amendment prohibits federal funds from being used for abortion except in very limited circumstances, a law by which Planned Parenthood abides. The resources they have received for decades have protected the lives of countless women in underserved parts of our nation. Don’t forget that it was President Richard Nixon who signed into law amendments to the Public Health Services Act to provide funds for family planning, and reproductive health services saying, “No American woman should be denied access to family planning assistance because of her economic condition”.
It is with this in mind that I urge my former colleagues to think carefully about the dangerous ramifications of denying millions of Americans access to essential healthcare services — including cancer screenings, HIV and STI testing, and other preventative care provided by Planned Parenthood health centers. In addition to providing critical, often life-saving services to those in health professional shortage areas, rural or medically underserved areas, Planned Parenthood serves people in communities struggling the most.
And the consequences of such a move are not hypothetical:
In 2016, the State of Texas Health and Human Services Commission issued a report revealing the 30,000 fewer women received healthcare following the state’s takeover of Texas Women’s Health Program from PlannedParenthood.
After Kansas defunded Planned Parenthood, the number of people accessing birth control, cancer screenings, STI tests, well-woman exams, and other care through the Title X program fell by more than 14,000.
And in 2011, Wisconsin enacted legislation that barred Planned Parenthood from receiving Title V Maternal and Child Health Block Grant funds as well as other state women’s health funds, despite the fact that 50 percent of the counties Planned Parenthood serves in Wisconsin would have no alternative family planning provider.
These are just a few real life examples of the devastating effects of eliminating funding from Planned Parenthood in states across the country. If Congress is successful in prohibiting Planned Parenthood from participating in federal healthcare programs, the negative impact on low-income women and women in rural areas will be unfathomable.
Let’s be clear. Federal law already blocks federal funds from going to abortion services. The debate around funding Planned Parenthood is actually about women's preventive healthcare. It’s about providing quality services to those with low incomes who have nowhere else to turn and to those living in areas with no other quality healthcare providers.
The argument that other providers can just absorb Planned Parenthood’s patient base if it is cut off from federal programs is patently false. The experts at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the National Partnership for Women and Families said it flat out: they can't.
Fifty-four percent of Planned Parenthood health centers are in health professional shortage areas, rural or medically underserved areas. Blocking access to these healthcare centers would hurt people in communities who are struggling to get by the most, and it would prevent millions of women who rely on Medicaid and other federal programs from accessing the healthcare provider that’s been there for them for decades.
To my former colleagues: I understand the enormous pressure that you are under, and that you, as responsible lawmakers, are doing your best to be responsive to the people who sent you to Washington to represent their best interests. However, taking away a quality healthcare provider in areas where there is often no other choice will have devastating effects on the health of women in the low-income, underserved and rural communities that many of you represent.
As your former colleague, I am rooting for your success. However, eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood makes no sense, and it is not the way to make our healthcare system better for American families.
Charles F. Bass is a Republican former U.S. Congressman and a founding member of the Tuesday Group in the House of Representatives. He represented New Hampshire’s 2nd District from 1996 – 2007 and 2011-2013.
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