On Jan. 5, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R) announced a budget bill that would begin to repeal President Barack Obama’s health care law and would include language that would strip Planned Parenthood of more than half of a billion dollars in annual federal funding.
“Planned Parenthood legislation would be in our reconciliation bill,” Ryan said at a press conference.
Republican lawmakers have tried for years to strip the reproductive health organization of its federal funding, particularly since it faced an investigation by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in 2015 dealing with the purported illegal sale of fetal tissue.
Although the investigation found no evidence of illegal acts, it placed Planned Parenthood and its Democratic allies on the defense. Ruth Lednicer, Planned Parenthood of Michigan director of media and communications, said in an interview the protestors are active even at the traditionally liberal Ann Arbor locations.
“They try to convince women not to go in,” Lednicer said. “They don’t even know what they’re going in for, whether it's something very personal, or just a check-up.”
Now, with Republicans in control of Congress, Republican lawmakers have a renewed interested in defunding Planned Parenthood, arguing that funding should be routed to health care providers that provide similar services, but not abortions.
LSA senior Rachel Crawford, president of Students for Life, has a similar plan that she would like to see implemented.
“Students for Life would like to see Planned Parenthood defunded, but we want that funding to go elsewhere to help women and impoverished communities,” Crawford said. “(Federally Qualified Health Centers) are public clinics for women’s care and children’s care in impoverished neighborhoods. They actually provide more services than Planned Parenthood.”
LSA freshman Matthew Brosky, who identifies with conservative views, agreed with Crawford’s goals. Though he said he doesn’t support federally funding these programs, he still believes quality health care should be accessible.
“Even though I’m not for funding Planned Parenthood or supporting the Affordable Care Act, I don’t think we should turn away from those who really need support in paying for health care,” Brosky said. “There are alternatives. I’m pretty sure you can get contraceptives and treatment at UHS.”
Lednicer pushed back at claims that routing funds toward health care providers that don’t offer abortions would help those in poverty.
“There's been an argument that if people can’t come here, they will just go somewhere else,” Lednicer said. “But anyone who uses Medicaid would not be able to come to Planned Parenthood. That would mean that they would have to find another willing provider who takes Medicaid, and many do not.”
Additionally, Lednicer said alternative women’s health care providers aren’t as common or inexpensive as Planned Parenthood opponents think. Planned Parenthood is free of copays, a cost she said could burden many patients.
Although many people think Planned Parenthood receives their federal funds like an allowance, the federal funding they receive is instead reimbursed through Medicaid, and often at less than the cost of services.
“We take reimbursement levels usually lower than the costs of the service because we fundraise so much,” Lednicer said. “The people most affected are those in low income and rural areas. A quarter of the counties in Michigan do not have an OB/GYN. For those people, often we are the only way to access health care.”
Currently, about 40 percent of Planned Parenthood’s revenue is federally funded. The $500 million dollar fund has been criticized for being too high; Brosky said it shouldn’t be the responsibility of taxpayers.
“I don’t think it's the taxpayers’ job to support Planned Parenthood,” said Brosky. “I am just not comfortable supporting abortions.”
This concern is shared by many, as most conservative taxpayers want to avoid funding abortions. However, the Hyde Amendment, which was passed in 1976, bars federal funds from paying for abortions, unless in the case of rape or to save the mother’s life. Joanne Bailey, a women’s studies professor and the director of the Nurse Midwifery Service at Michigan Medicine (formerly University of Michigan Health Service), said emotional responses that don’t consider the legislation we have in place are fueling the issue’s polarization.
“I try to de-emotionalize the issues in class,” Bailey said. “Let's take it back to the facts. Let's look at actual research. It's not just about emotional responses, but is rooted in information.”
Although emotional responses could confuse the issue at hand, Lednicer said there could be tangible consequences to repealing Planned Parenthood.
“When they talk about defunding us, they are talking about defunding patients,” Lednicer said. “Across the state, we saw about 60,000 patients last year and in Ann Arbor, we saw over 8,500. One in 5 women in this county come to Planned Parenthood.”
Republican lawmakers are attempting to defund Planned Parenthood by defunding Title X, a federal program devoted solely to family planning services. Although those lawmakers are interested in limiting abortions, Bailey said getting rid of Planned Parenthood could actually end up directing women toward needing the procedures more often.
“Ironically, what (lawmakers) are trying to do with this is going to lead women towards needing more abortions,” Bailey said. “They’re trying to defund an institution that provides birth control, and with birth control hard to obtain, there will be more pregnancies.”
Regardless of the consequences of defunding Planned Parenthood, Bailey said the premise of defunding Planned Parenthood has been altered by the use of inflammatory “buzzwords.”
“I believe that our lawmakers are really interested in the big buzzwords,” Bailey said. “They make Planned Parenthood associated with abortions only, and the Affordable Care Act is nicknamed ‘Obamacare’ and associated with Democrats only. When you look at what Planned Parenthood actually does, most people will get behind it. It's really the label that’s leading the charge as opposed to reality.”
Regardless of whether or not Republican lawmakers are successful in the repeal of the President Obama’s health care law, Crawford said the debate alone would inspire change.
“I think that with (Planned Parenthood) being in the news, whether or not it's defunded, brings up a really important discussion about where the funding should go,” Crawford said. “Even people who are in favor of the Affordable Care Act want some new changes to be made and those are being brought into the spotlight.”