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Defunding Planned Parenthood

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Escalating tensions between the G.O.P and Planned Parenthood has many Planned Parenthood chapters fighting for funding from their states. Over the past couple of months, an increasing number of states have passed laws that attempt to defund these local chapters, meeting intense opposition from federal judges and liberals. These bills came as a result of a series of secretly recorded videos released in 2015 by an anti-abortion group called The Center for Medical Progress that allegedly showed Planned Parenthood officials discussing the illegal sale of aborted fetal tissues.

In 1916, Margaret Sanger, her sister Ethel Byrne, and Fania Mindell opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. in Brooklyn, New York. With an agenda that focused on providing women with trusted health care, informing and educating the community, leading the reproductive rights movement, and advancing global health overall, Planned Parenthood grew into a non-profit clinic with over 200 clinics by the 1940s. It was not until 1970, when President Nixon signed the Family Planning Services and Population Research act, that Planned Parenthood began to receive government subsidies.

According to financial statements for the 2013-2014 fiscal year, the government provided 41% of Planned Parenthood’s $1.3 billion total revenue via Medicaid reimbursements, while the remaining 59% came from non-government health services, private contributions, etc. Out of the total revenue, 65% was used for medical expenses. Federal law states that federal funding cannot be allocated to abortions, a stipulation used by those who call for the defunding of Planned Parenthood in stating that funds provided for medical expenses could be used to support abortions.

Upon the rulings of Supreme Court cases Planned Parenthood v. Casey and Roe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood was given federal recognition to lawfully provide abortions. However, anti-abortion groups have lobbied against the funding of Planned Parenthood, arguing that this organization does not provide sufficient support for women’s health, that other community health centers can provide Planned Parenthood’s services more effectively, and that its business model is centered around abortions.

Planned Parenthood critics argue that since it does not offer mammograms to patients, it lacks a basic service of an effective women’s health center. Though in 2013 Planned Parenthood medical staff performed 487,029 “breast care/breast exams,” mammograms are not technically provided in their clinics. Indeed, according to Planned Parenthood’s’ 2013 report, cancer screenings and prevention only make up 9% of its services; the majority of its services involve STD/STI testing and treatment (42%) and contraception (34%). Though this report only attributes 3% of Planned Parenthood’s overall services to abortions, critics see these statistics in a different light.

Of the 2.7 million Planned Parenthood patients in 2013, 327,653 were provided with abortion services, meaning that 12% of patients overall received abortion services. Moreover, a mandate released by Planned Parenthood that called for on-site abortion services in all Planned Parenthood clinics cost the organization a few of its affiliates in New York, Texas, and Missouri – a fact that, according to many opponents, demonstrates Planned Parenthood’s commitment to increasing the number of abortion services it provides. Though there is no indication that federal funds are used to support abortions at Planned Parenthood, its annual report does not explicitly specify where federal and state funding is used within its organization. Critics argue that government funds could be used for services (staff payment, waiting rooms) that indirectly facilitate abortion services.

Due to the release of controversial videos earlier this year and other opposition, an increasing number of state legislatures have begun processes that will defund Planned Parenthood. An anti-abortion organization known as the Center for Medical Progress recently released a series of secretly filmed tapes allegedly showing officials from Planned Parenthood discussing the illegal sale of tissue and organs from aborted fetuses. Many claim that the videos were heavily edited and serve as a form of propaganda, deliberately manipulating the truth concerning Planned Parenthood actions with fetal tissue. In a letter written by Planned Parenthood’s current president Cecile Richards addressed to members of the House Committee for the investigation of Planned Parenthood, Richards states that those tapes are an attempt to “create discredited, doctored videos designed to smear Planned Parenthood.” She goes on to support Planned Parenthood’s involvement in fetal tissue research, while reminding the House Committee that only 1% of Planned Parenthood health centers facilitate fetal tissue donations. Indeed, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, “fetal tissue continues to be a critical resource for important efforts such as research on degenerative eye disease, human development disorders such as Down syndrome, and infectious disease, among a host of other diseases.”

Such rationale, however, did not prevent state legislatures from passing bills that defunded local Planned Parenthood chapters. Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Utah, and New Hampshire have all made attempts to defund Planned Parenthood by stripping the organization of state funds provided by Medicaid. Planned Parenthood sued Utah on the grounds that it is a qualified provider, and on October 15th, 2015 a federal judge ordered Utah to continue sending money to its local Planned Parenthood chapter. Judges in Alabama and Louisiana have also blocked these states from ending Planned Parenthood funding. Judge Myron Thompson of Alabama ruled that not only did the state fail to provide sufficient evidence to justify defunding the organization, but that its actions also violated the free-choice-of-provider provision found in the federal Medicaid Act. Regardless, these blockades are not deterring other states from attempting to defund their Planned Parenthood affiliates; eleven other states have all begun investigations into their local Planned Parenthoods. On October 19th, Texas announced that it would be cutting off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood clinics after a letter from Texas officials asserted that the clinics were potentially “liable, directly or by affiliation, for a series of serious Medicaid program violations.” This block could potentially lead to another court battle like those seen in Utah, Louisiana, and Alabama.

In Florida, though the state did not find any trace of fetal tissue donation in its Planned Parenthood clinics, it did find that some clinics had performed abortions beyond the state’s definition of the first trimester. In response, Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit against the state to prevent punitive action, claiming that Florida arbitrarily shifted the definition of what constitutes the first trimester. The complexity of state vs. Planned Parenthood controversy is further demonstrated in states like California, which has inverted the scope by investigating the Center for Medical Progress for potential violations of privacy and tax laws.

On the federal level, the House passed a bill on September 29th, 2015 that would allow states to withhold Medicaid funding to health groups that perform abortions, known as the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015.

H. R. 3134 would, for a one-year period following enactment, prohibit federal funds from being made available to Planned Parenthood Federation of America or any of its affiliates or clinics (collectively referred to as Planned Parenthood for this estimate), unless such entities certify that the affiliates will not perform, and will not provide any funds to any other entity that performs, an abortion during such period.”

Under this bill, an estimated $130 million of direct spending for Planned Parenthood would be reduced over the 2016-2025 period. The bill has now moved on to the Senate for a vote.

Perhaps in response to criticism, on October 13th Planned Parenthood announced that it would no longer accept reimbursements for the cost of providing fetal tissue for medical research, though the organization did not provide info on how much money it would forego due to this policy change.

According to a report released by the Congressional Budget Office, if the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015 passes, then an increase in unplanned births would occur as more women lose access to birth control. Thus, this report points out that, in the short run, halting federal funds to Planned Parenthood would reduce spending by $525 million, but would ultimately end up costing taxpayers an additional $650 million primarily as a result of a rise in unplanned births. The CBO report explains the inherent uncertainty in the consequences of the successful passing of the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015:

“The effects of [this] legislation on federal spending are highly uncertain and would depend largely on the extent to which individuals who otherwise would obtain Medicaid-funded services from Planned Parenthood would either: continue to obtain services from Planned Parenthood without Medicaid reimbursement; obtain services from other health clinics and medical practitioners that receive Medicaid reimbursement; or no longer obtain such services.”

Over this past year and continuing into 2016, issues between Planned Parenthood and states have risen. Many states proposed laws that attempted to retract federal funding from its local Planned Parenthood chapters, with some states receiving injunctions and opposition. This trend continues as Kentucky’s state Senate approved on February 2, 2016 defunding a portion of the state’s contribution to its Planned Parenthood chapters.

On the federal level, the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2015 has passed the House and will proceed to the Senate for consideration. Opponents of Planned Parenthood argue that by remaining ambiguous about how it allocates it federal funding, the organization could be breaking federal statute by directing its funding towards abortions. Federal statute prevents the allocation of federal funding towards abortions, and even though Planned Parenthood reports that only 3% of its overall services in 2013-2014 involved abortions, critics argue that the statistics aren’t accurate. Proponents of Planned Parenthood claim that defunding the organization could result in massive societal issues, such as an increase in financial costs for taxpayers and an increased number of unwanted pregnancies. They argue that Planned Parenthood is offering adequate health services for women, and that by defunding it, many women who rely on Planned Parenthood would have to turn towards new, possibly more expensive, health providers.

Fernando Torres, Silliman College ‘19

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