Stephanie Trierweiler: Standing with Planned Parenthood, again

Tuesday, March 13, 2018 - 5:11pm

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At this point, it hardly feels like a headline since it happens so cyclically: Republicans are once again trying to defund Planned Parenthood, the largest provider of reproductive health care and sex education in the United States.

Last Thursday, Politico reported that after nearly coming to an agreement on funding levels with House Democrats, House Republicans “reneged on women’s health issues” during a discussion on the annual health spending bill for 2018. They are demanding several policies that threaten health care, including cutting off federal funding to Planned Parenthood as well as eliminating a federal family planning program. This comes on heels of President Trump's administration slashing funding for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program.

Articles revolving around the bill trickled into my newsfeed at the end of last week, quietly juxtaposed with the massive waves of pride, conversation and activity sweeping across the internet for International Women’s Day. Hearing news of this attack on women’s freedoms feels like a stinging reminder of just how far we still have to go. Despite our progress and sense of empowerment in so many spaces, women’s autonomy and lives continue to be at stake.

Make no mistake: If attempts to defund Planned Parenthood come to fruition, people will suffer, particularly women, people of color, communities of lower socioeconomic status and rural communities with geographic barriers to health care. National Public Radio explains that Planned Parenthood’s federal funding  comes from Medicaid reimbursements and Title X grants. “Defunding” the organization would immediately block low-income, uninsured people — who depend on public health programs — from accessing health care. And since near half of its revenue comes from government funding, Planned Parenthood would struggle to maintain its centers and services in the same capacity.

Planned Parenthood currently plays a central role in providing health care to millions of people across the country. According to its 2016-2017 annual report, the organization saw 2.4 million patients and provided 9.5 million services. It’s the largest provider of sex education in the United States and has programs for schools, families and professionals. It has also conducted research in reproductive health for over 100 years and provides services such as birth control, pregnancy testing, emergency contraception, abortions and referrals, sexually transmitted disease testing, treatment and vaccines, HIV testing and medication, and LGBTQ education.

Additonally,  Planned Parenthood provides critical services for people who don’t have other options. For example, 78 percent of its patients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. According to the Guttmacher Institute, family planning health centers like Planned Parenthood are the only source of care for four in 10 women.

Brianna Jackson, a regional patient services associate for Planned Parenthood of Michigan and member of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, said in an interview that her interactions with patients remind her every single day of why she does her job: “Just today, I saw a patient who was coming in for an IUD (intrauterine device), which is usually standard. However, she is also homeless and is battling an eating disorder, depression and anxiety without medication. We got her signed up with Medicaid so she could have insurance moving forward to find a counselor and found her resources to go to a shelter if needed. We try and go beyond basic health care and address the patient and their needs as a person.”

Despite how much Planned Parenthood means to women’s health care, rights and education, anti-abortion activists have unleashed smear campaigns against the organization and lawmakers have relentlessly attempted to strip it of funding. But this crusade is nothing new. Planned Parenthood has been routinely demonized throughout its history, and its activities have been unfairly framed, time and time again, as morally objectionable.

Even its beginnings are rooted in fighting stigma. When Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the United States in 1916 and distributed birth control as well as health information to women, she and her staff were arrested within two weeks for distributing the materials. (This clinic was later organized into what would become Planned Parenthood after national attention was brought to her cause). And since the 1970s, many state and federal attacks have been made to circumvent access to abortions and criticize Planned Parenthood for being a significant provider of abortion services.

The common denominator? An ideological push that views women as second-class citizens. Yesterday, it was birth control. Today, it’s abortion. Tomorrow, it might be something else critical to women’s health.

Jackson says of the consistent attacks: “At the end of the day, we want to offer comprehensive women’s health care, and some people really don’t like that. Because of the fact that we offer abortion services, because we’re such a large organization and because we receive federal money, we’re being attacked. But we are never going to stop abortion services just so the attacks stop. Safe and legal abortions are part of women’s health care and part of their rights.”

This new threat of defunding is particularly worrisome due to the Trump administration laying the groundwork to roll back protection of abortion rights. But we must be resilient, we must support women and we must fight for organizations that do critical work for women. I stand with Planned Parenthood.

Stephanie Trierweiler can be reached at strier@umich.edu