Just hours after the Republican-dominated House of Representatives passed a measure to strip Planned Parenthood of funding on Friday, the embattled organization hit back, setting the stage for a showdown in what is widely seen as a symbolic effort to repeal the health care law.
The Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act, sponsored by Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, prohibits federal dollars from going to any organization that provides abortion services. It is an amendment to the omnibus spending bill now before Congress.
"In attacking Planned Parenthood, the House Republican leadership has launched an outrageous assault on the millions of Americans who rely on Planned Parenthood for primary and preventative health care, including life-saving breast and cervical cancer screenings, annual exams, family planning visits, birth control, HIV testing and more," Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a prepared statement.
"To be clear, the amendment to prohibit Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funding does nothing to reduce the deficit, and it does nothing to improve the economy," she continued. "In fact, health professionals will actually lose their jobs as a result, and most egregiously, it takes health care away from American women who cannot afford to pay for it on their own."
Planned Parenthood says it serves 3 million patients a year, and about 48 percent receive Medicaid and/or Title X funding. Many of those patients rely on Planned Parenthood for services other than abortions, the group stresses.
In a bruising battle, the House voted 240-185 to defund the organization, with only seven Republicans voting against the measure, while 10 Democrats voted in favor of it. The House, however, must still vote to approve the spending bill before the measure goes to the Senate. It would cut about $330 million through the end of September for preventative-health services, including federal funding for contraception and cancer screening at the nation's 800 Planned Parenthood clinics across the nation, according to ABC News.
The vote comes as no surprise. Abortion foes and conservatives across the country have led a robust grassroots campaign in recent months, with a special appeal to the black community. Activists emblazoned billboards with the alarming message that the womb is the most dangerous place for black children because of the high abortion rate among black women. Many of the attacks were centered on Planned Parenthood, which its critics accused of overpopulating black neighborhoods with abortion clinics. And for the most part, the 95-year-old organization has stood silent during this period, saying its history speaks for itself.
Single, with no children, he lives in D.C. and works for Planned Parenthood as an abortion provider and wellness provider. He has been with the organization for about two years.
Despite its symbolic nature, the Title X measure could be harmful, Parker told The Root. The rest of the interview is below:
The Root: What do you have to say in your defense about the upcoming House vote?
Willie Parker: We've known for a while there have been conservative political forces who don't like the work of Planned Parenthood. We know that we have been under attack politically for a while. While it's done in the guise of reducing the deficit and controlling spending, it's a politically driven assault on Planned Parenthood, and additionally an assault on women's health.
TR: What do you mean by assault on women's health?
WP: Given that Planned Parenthood sees 3 million patients in 800 centers across the nation, 97 percent of the services consists of well-woman health visits, breast and cervical cancer screening, contraception and planning, and health education. To try to drive Planned Parenthood out of business will displace millions of medically dependent women away from their primary health care.
The question is, where would those women get their care? We have been around for well over 90 years. We will always be committed to the health and well-being of women. We won't go away. The challenge of serving the vulnerable population will be all that much greater.
TR: Specifically, how will the vote affect black women?
WP: African-American women tend to have more chronic illness and disease. So in terms of having just basic health maintenance and well-woman care, when women get a general health assessment and exam, many things get discovered, like undiagnosed hypertension and diabetes and all of those basic primary health care needs. Usually, Planned Parenthood helps get that patient to someone who manages chronic illness. So 15 percent of our patients are African-American women. Many are often uninsured, and programs like Medicaid and Title X allow those women to have access to basic health screenings.
If they didn't have Planned Parenthood, where they could come to be seen on a sliding scale, or where we might be the only agency in their region that takes Medicaid, or where many African-American women have their medical home, you are destabilizing the safety net that many people of color rely on. A hit on Planned Parenthood really becomes a hit for African-American women.
Lynette Holloway is a Chicago-based writer. She is a former New York Times reporter and associate editor for Ebony magazine.