President-elect Donald Trump has galvanized conservatives with his promise to defund Planned Parenthood Federation of America, one of the nation’s largest health care providers and advocates. He has written (pdf) that he is “committed” to defunding the organization “as long as they continue to perform abortions,” and to reallocate its funding to community health centers that provide comprehensive health care for women.
Planned Parenthood says it has no plans to stop providing women with the full scope of health care, which includes abortions. In fact, there’s a headline on the front of its website that makes it clear that the organization is ready for a pitched battle: “These doors stay open.” The organization’s director of constituency communications, Alencia Johnson, says that despite the election of Trump and Vice President-Elect Mike Pence, 1 in 3 women will need the many services it provides at some point in their lifetimes.
“Our doors are open,” Johnson declares. “We’ve been around for 100 years. Since then, we’ve been fighting like hell to make sure there is access to health services regardless of race, ethnicity or religion, and we will see people and give them care.”
In its 2014-2015 annual report (pdf), Planned Parenthood says it supports 59 independent affiliates, which operate 661 health centers across the nation that saw 2.5 million patients last year. It also points out that it is the largest provider of sex education in the United States, and it breaks down the other health care services it performs. Forty-five percent of those services involve testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections; another 31 percent cover contraception; and 20 percent include cancer screening and prevention, pregnancy tests and prenatal services. Planned Parenthood also offers vasectomies.
The report says that 3 percent of its medical services were abortion procedures, just under 324,000. Planned Parenthood gets 43 percent of its revenue from government health-services grants and reimbursements. But the Hyde Amendment prohibits most federal funding for abortion.
Johnson notes that people come to the clinics for basic preventive health services—much more than just grabbing condoms out of the bowls at the counters. She adds that there has been a huge spike in donations as supporters prepare to help in the battle to keep Planned Parenthood from losing 43 percent of its revenues. “We’ve seen hundreds of thousands donate online or take action online,” says Johnson. “We understand that people see we need these services and there will be a huge fight over the next couple of years.”
Johnson, who adds that Planned Parenthood is grateful for the outpouring of support, says that the organization will be enlisting the help of what she calls its champions in Congress and at the state level. But 40 percent of Planned Parenthood’s patients are African American or Latino, among them a growing base of young black men, and those are the people whose voices Johnson thinks will show the nation how the clinics have been a step into “lives of opportunity” for many.
Linda Goler Blount, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Black Women’s Health Imperative, says that if Trump does defund its collaborative partner, the implications will be dire for the poor and for women of color.
“The ripple effect will be profound. … Most women who go to any publicly funded clinic—Planned Parenthood is the biggest, but there are a number that fall in the same category—go for well-women physicals, mammographies, cervical-cancer screening and contraceptive care. Few go for abortions,” Blount says. She says that if Planned Parenthood and other publicly funded clinics lose access to reproductive-care services, it could lead to higher rates of unintended pregnancy and could lead to higher rates of very dangerous types of abortions. That, Blount says, will lead to severe consequences, not only for low-income women but also for entire communities.
“The thing that will keep them in poverty is having kids that they are not financially or emotionally prepared to have. There’s no hope of them ever getting out of the cycle of poverty,” Blount explains, noting that this is how communities become destabilized. “We know what happens to health among the poor. There are higher rates of diabetes and heart disease, and mortality rates are higher.”
Conservatives are intensifying the defunding battle. Penny Nance with Concerned Women for America told a group of conservative leaders the day after the election that her organization would work hard to champion the issues that brought supporters out to the polls, including the effort to shift funding from what she called the nation’s largest abortion provider to community health centers that will care for the poor but won’t provide abortions.
“Concerned Women for America will begin nationwide, community-based prayer rallies outside Planned Parenthood clinics in key states urging the shift in funding around the country,” Nance said. “Senators will be put on notice that taxpayer dollars must no longer be used to take life.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), asked at his press conference last Thursday whether the Republican House would pass legislation prohibiting any federal funding for Planned Parenthood affiliates until the organization stops doing abortions, responded: “We’ve already shown what we believe with respect to funding Planned Parenthood. We put a bill on President Obama’s desk in reconciliation. Our position has not changed.”
The legislation, the Restoring Americans’ Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act, was vetoed by President Barack Obama. The vote to override his veto failed. If similar legislation arrives on the desk of President Trump, it seems likely that he would sign it.
Allison Keyes is an award-winning correspondent, host and author. She can be heard on CBS Radio News, among other outlets. Keyes, a former national desk reporter for NPR, has written extensively on race, culture, politics and the arts. Follow her on Twitter.