This week, the House will mark up a bill that would decimate the Affordable Care Act and could leave millions of Americans uninsured. As if that weren’t destructive enough, it also contains language that would “defund” Planned Parenthood health centers. Taken together, these two actions would devastate access to health care generally, and reproductive health care in particular.
The way some anti-choice members of Congress talk about it, you’d think that there’s a line item for Planned Parenthood in the federal budget every year. But that's not true. In fact, Planned Parenthood health centers operate like any other health care provider: They serve patients and are reimbursed by insurance companies for the care that they provide. Because Planned Parenthood is a key safety-net provider serving many low-income women, men, and young people, many of the patients they serve are insured through the federal Medicaid program.
So what would it actually mean to “defund” Planned Parenthood?
The reality is that Congress is considering legislation that would block patients who qualify for Medicaid from going to Planned Parenthood health centers. That’s right — this bill specifically targets low-income patients by prohibiting them from accessing services like birth control, cancer screenings, and sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment at the Planned Parenthood health centers they trust. Seventy-five percent of Planned Parenthood’s patients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level — just $12,060 for an individual — and more than half of Planned Parenthood’s 650 health centers are located in rural or medically underserved areas.
We know what this is really about. Anti-choice members of Congress want to restrict access to abortion in any way they can. They want to punish Planned Parenthood for providing safe, legal abortion services and are even telling angry constituents at home that they want to defund Planned Parenthood to stop taxpayer funding of abortion.
But there’s a pretty big problem with that: It doesn't work that way.
Federal dollars can’t be used to pay for abortions — except in very limited circumstances — as a result of the Hyde Amendment. This is a harmful, discriminatory policy that should be eliminated, and pro-choice champions in Congress have introduced a bill to do just that. Nevertheless, Hyde remains in place for now, so the claim that defunding Planned Parenthood would stop taxpayers from funding abortion is a hollow one.
The truth is anti-choice Members of Congress want to force Planned Parenthood health centers to close their doors — even if it means closing the doors on millions of low-income people who rely on Planned Parenthood for cervical cancer screenings, tests and treatment for HIV and other STIs, and birth control. These lifesaving preventive services make up the vast majority of what Planned Parenthood does.
And while Planned Parenthood’s opponents claim that patients can just go elsewhere, the fact is that other providers simply cannot fill the void that would be left in many communities if Planned Parenthood health centers close. We’ve seen how this plays out at the state level.
We know what this is really about. Anti-choice members of Congress want to restrict access to abortion in any way they can.
When Texas cut family planning funding in 2011 in an attempt to defund Planned Parenthood, the results were disastrous for women in the state. Last month, a Texas court blocked the state from cutting off Medicaid reimbursements to Planned Parenthood, which would have limited patient options even further. And it’s not just Texas. States across the country have attempted to block patient access to Planned Parenthood health centers, including in Florida, Missouri, and Iowa.
We can’t let this happen nationwide.
So the next time you hear Congress talk about “defunding” Planned Parenthood, you’ll know the truth: that they want to cut off access to the affordable, high-quality care that Planned Parenthood provides to over 2 million people every year.