Saturday, June 23, 2018
Politics

Romano: Attacking Planned Parenthood, one law at a time

Their name has become a slur. Their demise plotted in intricate detail.

And yet the need for Planned Parenthood clinics never seems to abate. Even as protesters stand outside in vigilance and prayer, and even as state legislators scheme to put them out of business.

It's Friday morning at Planned Parenthood in Temple Terrace and an office manager exchanges pleasantries outside with a sign-toting protester in a surreal encounter of enemy combatants clocking in for another day of battle.

The office lobby is clean, somewhat bland and entirely still. There's one television, a half-dozen magazines and 26 empty chairs. Within an hour of the doors opening, every chair is taken and every conversation is kept to a whisper.

This is the reality that lawmakers don't seem to grasp. In a state with one of the highest rates of uninsured residents, and a state where doctors shun Medicaid because of low reimbursement rates, legislators with gold-plated health plans seem to think women can find quality medical services on every street corner.

And they've put that fairy tale to the test recently by passing bills that do away with funding for Planned Parenthood in Florida, as well as adding restrictions to create more hurdles for women and more burdens for clinics.

All of this is being perpetrated — although not acknowledged by duplicitous legislators — because of Planned Parenthood's status as one of the nation's leading abortion providers.

And much of the hysteria has been fueled by fabricated videos that have been discredited and led to criminal charges, and yet still seem to be a prominent part of the GOP's messaging.

"This is funny in the most tragic sense of the word,'' said Breanna Manassa, 25, who has been coming to the clinic for five years for health care, including birth control. "They want to get rid of abortions, and yet they're making it harder for women to get birth control by attacking Planned Parenthood. It makes no sense. Do they think passing laws will stop people from having sex? Because I'm pretty sure it doesn't work that way.''

The argument is not just counterintuitive, it's potentially dangerous.

When Texas passed similar restrictions, a dozen health clinics across the state were forced to close. This meant women with limited means, and limited transportation, had no access to birth control, or cancer screenings.

As the legality of the Texas laws are being heard by the Supreme Court, the New York Times says Google recorded more than 700,000 searches for variations of "self-induced abortion'' in 2015.

"These poor Medicaid patients struggle to find providers who will take care of them,'' said Dr. Suzie Prabhakaran, the medical director for Planned Parenthood's Southwest and Central regions. "And while some places may agree to see them, it can take weeks before they can get an appointment. It's maddening to think the state is purposefully making access harder.''

Legislators who think it's intrusive — to the point of being illegal — for pediatricians to inquire about gun safety around children, have no problem requiring women to make two separate visits with at least a 24-hour waiting period for an abortion.

And a new law that prohibits any type of public support of Planned Parenthood will probably mean the closing of a clinic in the farming community of Immokalee. Even though the clinic performs no abortions, and provides birth control and other services for migrant workers, its survival is at risk because it shares office space with a county health department.

"To say they are trying to promote health and protect women by taking away services is extremely disingenuous,'' said Florida Planned Parenthood executive director Laura Goodhue.

Meanwhile, on the sidewalk outside the Temple Terrace clinic, a handful of protesters applaud the news of any law that could hasten the demise of Planned Parenthood.

"We're not here to judge or condemn or to make women feel bad,'' said Kim Gilio, who said she had an abortion at 17, "we're here to warn them.''

"We want them to know that they're not just ending a life,'' said Katherine Ingham, "they're also changing their life forever.''

Yet the cars continue to arrive, and the lobby remains full as lunchtime approaches. Jennifer Lang has been here since early morning with 17-year-old daughter Summer, who recently discovered she was pregnant.

Lang has had to cancel work appointments as the day drags on, and she is already plotting ahead for what would be a required second visit next week if an abortion is scheduled. In the meantime, Summer talks about finishing high school and taking advantage of the college trust fund her grandparents set aside for her.

She gets involved in a conversation about different birth control methods, and pulls out a copy of an ultrasound she got earlier in the morning. She seems caught between sadness and resignation. As if she knows her decision even if she hasn't yet made it.

"I'm sure it's nice for people to sit up in Tallahassee and have their beliefs, but they really haven't experienced the repercussions of a situation like this,'' her mother said. "We've come so far from the days of back-alley abortions, and now it seems like we're regressing again. I hope they understand what effect their decisions are having.''

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