By Nisha Kurani
House Republicans’ threat to shut down the government over funding for Planned Parenthood came and went, but the political firestorm is far from over. Last week, House Republicans created a special committee to investigate the use of federal funds for abortion and fetal tissue procurement, and implicitly, to investigate Planned Parenthood. This 13-member panel has the power to subpoena documents and testimony, and can therefore more rigorously continue the inquiry into Planned Parenthood that three separate House committees began over the summer.
While Planned Parenthood is frequently targeted by anti-abortion activists and conservative politicians, this recent surge of Republican attacks on Planned Parenthood is largely a reaction to the heavily edited and widely discredited videos released this summer by an extremist anti-abortion group alleging that Planned Parenthood profits from donated fetal tissue received from abortions.
Though multiple state investigations and House hearings have thus far failed to show Planned Parenthood committed any wrong doing, House Republicans have still reacted to the videos with an onslaught of new legislation. In September, the House passed a bill to defund Planned Parenthood, and more recently passed a bill that would allow states to withhold Medicaid funding from providers or entities for any services if those providers participate in the provision of abortion services. Anti-abortion bills, which have been on the rise since 2010, continue to be introduced in state legislatures around the country.
The attempts to cut federal funding from Planned Parenthood and attack women’s health are misguided and ill-informed. In truth, fetal tissue donation and reimbursement for related costs “associated with the transportation, implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue” are completely legal and six states have already cleared Planned Parenthood of any wrong-doing. Planned Parenthood has since moved to curb the controversy by no longer accepting reimbursement for fetal tissue donation.
The bigger issue of federal funding being used for abortions is also highly mischaracterized. Planned Parenthood’s federal dollars come from Medicaid reimbursements and from Title X, a federal grant program that provides low-income women and men with family planning and preventive services. Last month, the Congressional Budget Office estimated that the organization received about $450 million in federal funds, $390 million from Medicaid reimbursement and about $60 million in the form of Title X. Federal law does not allow Title X funding to be spent on any abortion, and federal dollars from Medicaid can only be used for abortions in very limited circumstances – in the case of rape, incest, or endangerment to the woman’s life. However, states can choose to fund abortion themselves if they wish, through state funding; state laws currently vary drastically on coverage for abortion services.
Cutting funding from Planned Parenthood would result in the organization losing 40% of its revenue, and would force the organization to close its doors to thousands of individuals—women and men–who rely on them for preventive health care and family planning needs. Planned Parenthood served 2.7 million people in the past year, 78% of whom were below 150% of the federal poverty level. Planned Parenthood provides vital health services for all patients, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, contraception, cancer screenings. In fact, of the services the organization provided last year, 42% were for STI/STD testing and treatment, 34% were for contraception, and only 3% were for abortion services – a medical procedure that nearly three in ten women undergo, and that the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists describes as being “of vital importance to the health of women.”
Defunding Planned Parenthood would have an enormously detrimental effect on the quality of – and access to – health care in communities around the US. More than half of Planned Parenthood clinics are in rural or underserved areas, where they are often a patient’s only resource. Relying on other health centers to counter the loss of Planned Parenthood would not be a solution for patients who cannot access such centers, nor would it be feasible for community health centers – with resources already stretched thin – to fill the gap for women’s health care. These clinics have to serve millions of individuals for needs beyond family planning, and often are the only source of care for the nation’s most needy.
In the end, it is clear that the attempts by House Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood amount to more than a deliberate an attack to ban abortion; they attack the health of women and families throughout the country. There will continue to be disagreement and debate over abortion in this nation, though it is a constitutionally protected right and medical procedure. The real victims of the war on abortion and reproductive health are the individuals and the families who rely on Planned Parenthood to meet a spectrum of health needs.
Nisha Kurani is a Master of Public Policy student at the Goldman School of Public Policy and a PMJ editor.