As anti-abortion lawmakers threaten to risk a government shutdown unless Planned Parenthood is stripped of its federal funding, a new study illustrates the potentially disastrous effects of undermining the national women’s health organization.
According to the analysis, which was published on Tuesday in Health Affairs, Planned Parenthood is sometimes the only available provider for low-income women who need family planning services. Without it, other safety net organizations would struggle to meet patients’ contraceptive needs.
In addition to offering abortions at some of its locations, Planned Parenthood clinics across the country also use federal and state funding to provide a wide range of women’s health services — including birth control, STD tests, and cancer screenings — to patients who otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford that type of health care. Since a decades-old federal policy called the Hyde Amendment already prohibits federal dollars from flowing to abortion services, these are the services that would be affected if Congress successfully strips funding from Planned Parenthood.
The Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that tracks reproductive health policy, crunched the numbers on behalf of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), which was interested in seeing whether Planned Parenthood is the only safety-net option in some regions on the country.
Guttmacher’s researchers examined the 491 counties where Planned Parenthood clinics are located and found that, in 103 of those places, Planned Parenthood is the only center where low-income patients can receive affordable contraceptive services.
And Planned Parenthood serves a disproportionate number of those vulnerable patients. According to the new analysis, the group makes up 10 percent of the nation’s publicly funded family planning clinics, but it serves 36 percent of the patients who go to these clinics. In 332 of the counties where it operates, Planned Parenthood serves at least half of the clients who rely on safety net providers.
The researchers concluded that it’s hard to predict exactly what would happen if Planned Parenthood lost the funding that it currently uses to provide these safety net services. However, they caution that if Congress moves forward with efforts to defund the organization, other community health providers probably won’t be able to fill the gaps.
“Certainly in the short term, it is doubtful that other providers could step up in a timely way to absorb the millions of women suddenly left without their preferred source of care and whether those providers could offer the same degree of accessible, quality contraceptive care offered by Planned Parenthood,” they write.
The study effectively debunks a popular talking point from anti-abortion Republicans in Congress, who frequently say that defunding Planned Parenthood won’t harm patients because that money could simply be shifted to the country’s other community health centers.
There are an estimated 1,200 community health centers across the United States that use taxpayer dollars to serve low-income patients. But experts have long said that it’s naive to assume they can pick up all of the patients currently served by Planned Parenthood clinics.
“In many communities, there are not other health care providers that would be equipped to fill the void created by the prohibition of funding for a qualified, trusted family planning provider,” Clare Coleman, the head of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, which represents the health centers serving low-income patients, explained when GOP lawmakers first proposed shifting Planned Parenthood’s funding.
Planned Parenthood’s activities have come under considerable scrutiny thanks to a video campaign targeting the organization’s facilitation of fetal tissue donation. On Wednesday, a congressional committee will hear testimony during the first long-awaited hearing focusing on Planned Parenthood. Representatives from the women’s health group were not invited to testify.
This week’s House Judiciary Committee hearing is just the latest development in the ongoing political battle over Planned Parenthood. Following the release of the videos targeting the organization, multiple states launched investigations into its fetal tissue donation programs (though none of them have turned up any evidence of wrongdoing). Thousands of abortion opponents have protested outside of clinics. And now, at least 28 Republican lawmakers are threatening to shut down the government unless Congress agrees to defund the group.
It’s still unclear whether Republicans will unite around a deal to avert a shutdown that insists on defunding Planned Parenthood. But the group is hardly safe from other targets. The biggest practical threat to Planned Parenthood’s patient services is at the state level, where some GOP lawmakers have already successfully stripped funding from the organization.
Family planning experts — including the researchers who conducted Guttmacher’s latest analysis — point to Texas as the best illustration of the dire consequences of going after Planned Parenthood. There, lawmakers eliminated all of Planned Parenthood’s Medicaid funding, which has crippled the family planning network in the state and forced dozens of clinics to close. Other providers haven’t been able to handle the influx of new patients. Now, more than half of Texas women say they’ve faced at least one barrier to getting the reproductive health services they need.