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'Thousands' at risk locally if GOP defunds Planned Parenthood

Jason Addy

As President Donald Trump settles into the Oval Office, Planned Parenthood centers across the country are worrying about their federal funding.

A person holds a reproductive rights sign during the Women's March on Washington Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. Amanda J. Cain photo

With Republicans now in control of the House of Representatives, Senate and White House, many are expecting a vote to defund the controversial reproductive health care provider in the near future.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told reporters Jan. 5 that efforts to defund the organization “would be in our reconciliation bill,” referring to a measure Congress has put on a fast track aimed at repealing major pieces of the Affordable Care Act.

According to the organization’s most recent annual report, Planned Parenthood received more than $550 million in 2015 from federal, state and local governments, accounting for almost half of all funding.

About 75 percent of that money comes from the federal Medicaid program to pay for medical services for low-income patients, including contraception, cancer screenings and sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, according to the organization.

Putting a measure to defund Planned Parenthood into the reconciliation bill would require fewer votes than passing a bill to defund the organization on its own. The reconciliation bill operates under special rules and cannot be filibustered, meaning the 52 Republican senators currently supporting the bill would be enough to pass it.

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Sari Stevens, executive director of Planned Parenthood Pennsylvania Advocates, said several thousand Medicaid patients in York County would be in jeopardy if Planned Parenthood is defunded by federal lawmakers.

Planned Parenthood centers,such as the one at 728 S. Beaver St., are the primary health care service centers for many women, Stevens said. The organization is the nation’s largest provider of pap smears, breast cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and contraceptives.

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Abortion procedures account for just 3 percent of all services provided by Planned Parenthood, Stevens said, pointing out that abortion rates are at the lowest levels since 1974, when abortion was made legal by the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court ruling.

The 926,000 abortions performed nationwide in 2014 were 12.5 percent less than the 1.06 million performed in 2011, according to a report by the Guttmacher Institute, the only entity that strives to count all abortions in the U.S.

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, 32,126 abortions were performed in the state during 2014, 18 more than in 2013, which saw the least number of recorded annual abortions. In York County, 651 abortions were performed during 2014, according to state statistics.

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Stevens said the lawmakers’ push to defund Planned Parenthood is a “political game” that is putting people’s health and lives at risk.

Community health centers: More than 90,000 men and women in Pennsylvania and 2.5 million across the country would be forced to find other health care providers if Planned Parenthood is defunded, Stevens said, which isn’t an option in every part of the state.

Lawmakers have suggested diverting the organization’s funding to community health centers that provide many of the same services and don’t offer abortion procedures in order to meet the demand for women’s health care services.

York County has five community health centers, including three in York City.

But Stevens said some community health centers can’t provide the gynecological care, family planning services and on-site pharmacies that Planned Parenthood’s centers can. In many areas, there’s no one to step in to fill the potential void, Stevens said.

“The idea that a health care facility could absorb several thousand patients at one time is just preposterous and dangerous,” Stevens said, emphasizing that reproductive health care and family planning are not services patients can wait for.

A person holds a reproductive rights sign during the Women's March on Washington Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. Amanda J. Cain photo

“The other reality is that in parts of the state, there are no community health centers. It’s not a one-size-fits-all model,” Stevens said.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, permanently changing the law to make Planned Parenthood ineligible for Medicaid funding would cost the country approximately $130 million over 10 years, due to the “additional births that would result from enacting such a bill.”

A steep challenge: Stevens said the organization is prepared for the reconciliation bill to pass in the U.S. House and is facing a “steep challenge” to stop the bill in the U.S. Senate.

“We’re doing everything we can to stop them in the Senate,” Stevens said. “There are a lot of moderate members that know this is a really risky political move.”

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., was one of 37 senators who sent a letter to Speaker Ryan on Jan. 6 declaring their intent to “fight back to protect the well-being and lives of millions of women, men and families nationwide.”

“I have consistently voted against measures to defund Planned Parenthood because of the critical health care it provides to women in Pennsylvania,” Casey said Tuesday. “Congressional Republicans and the new administration toying with the health care of our nation’s mothers, sisters and daughters is irresponsible. Defunding Planned Parenthood and supporting the radical Ryan budget would decimate vital programs for our families, eliminate cancer screenings that save countless women’s lives and cost taxpayers more.”

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., was brief in explaining his support for defunding Planned Parenthood, saying any taxpayer dollars going to the organization “are at least indirectly subsidizing abortions.” Toomey said he supports redirecting Planned Parenthood’s funding to community health centers.

U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Dillsburg, said he has taken steps to ensure that taxpayers in the state’s 4th Congressional district “aren’t forced to subsidize abortion.” In a statement on Monday, Perry emphasized his position that “defunding Planned Parenthood in no way is an effort to defund women’s health care.”

“Defunding Planned Parenthood has nothing to do with women’s health care,” Perry said. “I’m a son, husband and father of two girls and am concerned about women’s access to health care services. I’ll support efforts that shift funding to other health providers so women receive the care they need but doesn’t include forcing taxpayers to subsidize abortion.”

— The Associated Press and Kaiser Health News contributed to this report.