When Republicans in Congress vow to defund Planned Parenthood in the name of preventing abortions, they fail to acknowledge the vital women's health services that also would be lost. Think cancer screenings, STD treatment and, most importantly, contraceptives. All of those would be harder to access because — contrary to many claims — other publicly funded health centers are unprepared to fill the void. As the abortion battle revs up anew in Washington, the 2.5 million women across the country who receive basic care at Planned Parenthood clinics should not be forgotten.
A recent report by the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that supports abortion rights, looked at practical aspects of Planned Parenthood services and compared them with other safety net health centers that receive federal money. For example, the report found that 78 percent of Planned Parenthood clinics offer extended evening or weekend hours to accommodate patients' work and child care demands. Just 18 percent of health departments have extended hours. Planned Parenthood, which has nearly two dozen clinics throughout Florida, is also better able to offer same-day appointments, and its wait times for appointments are shorter. More than other safety net health centers, Planned Parenthood provides a broad range of contraceptives and often it's one-stop shopping. A woman who chooses birth control pills can get them at the clinic rather than making a separate trip to a pharmacy. A patient who opts for an IUD can often have it inserted during the initial appointment. These are small but important accommodations that add up to preventing a lot of unplanned pregnancies.
Planned Parenthood's public funding takes the form of Title X grant money for family planning programs and Medicaid reimbursements for services like mammograms and checkups. By law, taxpayer dollars cannot be used for abortions — though that has never stopped abortion rights opponents from demonizing the group's work. Efforts in Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act, supported by President Donald Trump, have given Planned Parenthood opponents a new avenue to slash funding. But to do that would be to reverse momentous progress.
Abortion in the United States has reached the lowest rate ever recorded, falling below 1 million in 2014. Abortion rights opponents credit state laws that restrict access, and no doubt some women and teens go through with pregnancy because the clinic closest to them has shut down or because they've passed the gestational stage when abortion is legal in their state. But limiting women's choices with little regard for their circumstances, not to mention their autonomy, is punitive and shortsighted. The better way to prevent abortion is to prevent unintended pregnancies, which are also seeing a steady decline, particularly among teens and poor women. That trend coincides with an increase in the use of contraceptives, especially long-acting methods such as IUDs, which are exactly what Planned Parenthood is so effective at providing.
Yet Vice President Mike Pence promised abortion rights opponents at the March for Life in Washington that the Trump administration will push to ban all federal funding for any programs at any organization that also performs abortions. Perhaps the lone point of agreement in the abortion argument is that fewer is better. That trend would be difficult to sustain without Planned Parenthood, which plays a singularly critical role in connecting women most at risk of unplanned pregnancy with the means to prevent it while also ensuring they receive basic medical care.