Grace Mattern: The false narrative on Planned Parenthood

  • Margaret Sanger, the founder of the birth-control movement, poses before leaving the Brooklyn Court of Special Sessions after her arraignment in New York in October 1916. AP

  • In this March 1, 1934 file photo, Margaret Sanger, who founded the American Birth Control League in 1921, speaks before a Senate committee to advocate for federal birth-control legislation in Washington. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 4/23/2017 12:18:28 AM

On Oct. 16, 1916, Margaret Sanger opened the first Planned Parenthood clinic in Brooklyn, N.Y., to provide birth control information and advice to women. Nine days later police raided the clinic and shut it down.

A century later the Republican administration is trying to shut down Planned Parenthood clinics, framing their efforts as a pro-life attempt to prevent public tax dollars from funding abortion.

The real issue at stake, as it was 100 years ago, is women’s access to family planning services and reproductive choice.

There are now 650 Planned Parenthood clinics across the country, providing preventive health care to over 2.5 million patients a year. One in five American women has accessed health care through Planned Parenthood at some point in their lives.

Since the 1970s, federal funding and policy has recognized that it makes a lot of sense to make sure women are able to get family planning services, including birth control, regardless of their finances. There is overwhelming evidence that when women can choose when to have children, their lives improve in every measure – income, housing and education. Their children’s lives improve, too.

So why are we still fighting for women to have access to birth control?

Actually, you might not realize we are. If you’re financially secure, you don’t have any trouble getting birth control. But if you’re a Medicaid patient, Planned Parenthood may be your only choice for family planning services. If the Republican administration had their way, that choice would disappear.

The American Health Care Act that failed in the U.S. House of Representatives last month, would have prohibited any Medicaid funding from going to Planned Parenthood for a year.

Thwarted in that anti-choice strategy, the next week the Republican controlled Senate rescinded an Obama era rule that prevented states from blocking family planning grants to organizations that offer abortions. Which means Planned Parenthood. President Trump signed the bill on April 13.

Republicans use pro-life arguments for defunding Planned Parenthood, saying that public funds shouldn’t support abortions. Tax dollars do not fund abortions. The Republican argument rarely includes the fact that the Hyde Amendment, passed in 1976, prohibits federal funds from paying for abortion services except in cases of rape or incest, or to save the mother’s life.

Millions of women have access to essential health care services only through Planned Parenthood. The 3 percent of those services that involve abortions are not funded by federal dollars, and Republican lawmakers know it. Apparently they don’t care about women losing access to the other 97 percent of critical health services Planned Parenthood provides.

A recent survey found that 80 percent of Americans, including a majority of Republican women and men, support federal funding for preventive care provided by Planned Parenthood. At least the public understands the importance of these health care services – birth control, cancer screening, testing for sexually transmitted diseases – being available for the mostly low-income women that Planned Parenthood serves.

There is no line item in the federal budget for Planned Parenthood. The organization is reimbursed for preventive health services provided to patients who qualify for Medicaid, just like any clinic or hospital, and 60 percent of Planned Parenthood’s patients qualify. When Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, talks about defunding Planned Parenthood what he’s really saying is that people covered by Medicaid won’t be able to use Planned Parenthood for their health care. That means taking away an important health care choice for 1.6 million low-income patients.

Paul Ryan has proposed shifting funding from Planned Parenthood to federal community health clinics. That sounds like a workable plan, except these clinics provide fewer contraceptive services and the rural health clinics don’t have to serve low-income patients or provide family planning services. In Ryan’s own district, there are two counties that don’t have a federally qualified health clinic, and the 6,000 women who get services every year from Planned Parenthood there would have no place else to go for family planning health care. Half of Planned Parenthood’s clinics are in medically underserved areas.

Not surprisingly, research shows that access to family planning services makes a real difference.

An analysis of the effects of defunding Planned Parenthood in Texas in 2013, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found a 27 percent increase in births. Researchers tied the increase to women losing access to the most reliable and long-lasting forms of birth control.

The Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Republicans’ failed health care bill estimated that the additional thousands of babies born to Medicaid patients by blocking funds from going to Planned Parenthood would result in a $21 million increase in spending in just one year. The 10-year estimate was $130 million. Every federal dollar spent on family planning programs saves seven dollars in Medicaid-related costs.

Given the fact that defunding Planned Parenthood doesn’t affect federal support for abortions, and costs tax payers more in increased Medicaid costs, it becomes clear there’s another motive at work here.

By continuing to make the Planned Parenthood funding story about abortions, Republican lawmakers hide the reality of the organization’s critical role as a provider of health care for some of our country’s most vulnerable women and men (yes, men get health care at Planned Parenthood clinics, too).

The fact that health care at Planned Parenthood clinics empowers women to make choices about whether and when to have children, to have control over their own bodies, is what Republican lawmakers are trying to take away.

The Republican administration’s policing of reproductive health care is far less blatant than uniformed officers locking the doors of Planned Parenthood clinics, but Margaret Sanger wouldn’t be fooled and her message would be the same.

Keep Planned Parenthood clinics open and accessible to all women.

(Grace Mattern is a poet and writer who lives in Northwood. She blogs at

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