A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Bill Straub: Planned Parenthood provides important service and Republicans can’t make that go away

WASHINGTON – For years, right-wing lawmakers in Washington and Frankfort have been pursuing Planned Parenthood in the same way Wile E. Coyote chases that elusive Road Runner. Even the results are strikingly similar – they never nab their prey and they wind up looking increasingly ridiculous as an anvil drops on their heads.

Planned Parenthood has proved an available target of critics since its founding more than 100 years ago. In Iowa recently, a Republican state senator named Steve Fitzgerald proved that Capitol Hill isn’t the only spot providing sanctuary for dopes these days, characterizing the organization as being “as bad, or worse’’ than Dachau, the infamous Nazi concentration camp, because it helps provide abortions for women seeking same in some states.

Critics find it convenient to ignore the fact that Planned Parenthood operates 650 health centers nationwide, providing women with the sort of safe and reliable reproductive health care not readily accessible everywhere, the sort of preventive care that helps avert unintended pregnancies, reduces the spread of sexually transmitted infections through testing and treatment and offers screening for cervical and other cancers.

Through these practices, it’s fair to say, Planned Parenthood has moved to prevent more unwanted pregnancies, thus limiting abortions, than anything any of its critics have ever done.

These same critics also display convenient amnesia regarding the so-called Hyde Amendment, around since 1977, prohibiting Planned Parenthood and similar organizations from using federal Medicaid funds to pay for abortions unless the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or the abortion is necessary to save the life of the woman.

And it’s fair to say most of those women seeking Planned Parenthood’s aid aren’t wealthy. Of the 2.5 million people who rely on Planned Parenthood health centers for essential health services annually, about 75 percent show incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level.

As a result the federal funding that Planned Parenthood receives is largely through Medicaid reimbursements. Fifty-four percent of Planned Parenthood health centers are in rural or medically underserved areas.

Experts have repeatedly asserted that other available providers can’t absorb Planned Parenthood patients if the organization’s access to Medicaid is cut off and it can no longer afford to address those who need help. Yet the right wing and abortion foes have tried all sorts of tactics to deprive the organization of its ability to provide services to poor women, the real target here.

There was the hackneyed argument that Margaret Sanger, the organization’s founder, was an inveterate racist because of her embrace of eugenics. Of course Sanger’s been dead for 51 years and the organization has evolved into the nation’s primary organization for providing women – regardless of race, creed or color, as they used to say — with reproductive health care services. That canard failed.

Then of course, there was the controversy a couple years ago when fakers from the bogus Center for Medical Progress surreptitiously taped a luncheon conversation with a Planned Parenthood representative purportedly establishing that the group was selling the tissue of aborted fetuses to the highest bidder. More than a dozen investigations on the state and federal level showed that the tapes were heavily edited and that Planned Parenthood had done no such thing.

But Congress and, apparently, the Kentucky General Assembly have no shortage of lawmakers willing to make fools of themselves when it comes to adequately providing necessary health amenities for lady parts. Both legislative chambers are hunkering down to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood over that old devil, abortion.

The joke of a healthcare bill circulated by Republicans in Congress to replace Obamacare includes a provision, proudly touted by House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-WI, the most overrated individual to hit the nation’s capital since Robert Griffin III, limiting Medicaid reimbursements to the organization, costing it about $178 million in 2017 alone if the legislation passes, which thankfully remains up in the air.

“This is what we’ve been dreaming about doing,” Ryan said at a recent press briefing.

Meanwhile, in the commonwealth, both chambers of the Kentucky General Assembly have passed Senate Bill 8, which places Planned Parenthood far down on the totem pole when it comes to the state distributing about $300,000 in family planning funds per year. The money would first be directed at public health clinics.

There’s one catch – Congress must first pass, and President Trump must sign, legislation permitting Kentucky or other state to turn its back on Planned Parenthood. Such legislation has passed the House but it looks to be encountering problems in the Senate.

75 percent of Americans, including majorities of both Republican women and Republican men, support federal Medicaid reimbursement for Planned Parenthood to provide services such as contraception, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and cancer screenings

Once again, proponents cited their distaste for abortion.

“The bill makes clear that in Kentucky we will not tolerate, condone or acquiesce to our taxpayer dollars going to organizations that are so callous about human life,” said Rep Tim Moore, R-Elizabethtown.

Planned Parenthood doesn’t currently perform abortions in the commonwealth, but why let facts get in the way of making life that much harder on poor women who need the organization’s assistance.

Polls show Planned Parenthood’s foes are standing on quicksand, not that such information will halt their foaming-at-the-mouth pursuit. A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 62 percent of registered voters questioned oppose lopping off the organizations federal funding.

A survey released Wednesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation proved even more emphatic – 75 percent of Americans, including majorities of both Republican women and Republican men, support federal Medicaid reimbursement for Planned Parenthood to provide services such as contraception, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and cancer screenings.

Despite the political wrangling, most Americans understand that Planned Parenthood provides an important service and congressional Republicans can’t make that go away.

“Basic health care shouldn’t get caught up in congressional Republicans’ extreme agenda,’’ said Dawn Laguens, the vice president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “We’ve made tremendous gains in this country, including a  30-year low in unintended pregnancies and a historic low in teen pregnancies, thanks to expanded access to reproductive health care and birth control. Now is not the time to roll back that progress.”

Laguens cited the polls showing that the vast majority of Americans support Planned Parenthood “and understand that essential preventive health care should be available to anyone, regardless of how much money they make or where they live.”

t’s worth noting that under the GOP’s health care reform proposal, the so-called American Health Care Act, which includes the Planned Parenthood funding reductions, the richest two percent of Americans will receive a $274 billion tax cut while many, many women find their reproductive health services disappearing.

Some will dismiss it as politics but it’s an unconscionable form of politics, the sort Republican lawmakers are building their reputation upon. Back in school, those picking on the most vulnerable were known as bullies.

The description still fits.


Washington correspondent Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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