Who pays for war on Planned Parenthood?

Planned Parenthood supporters in Los Angeles rally in 2015 for women’s access to reproductive health care on National Pink Out Day. Republicans in Congress this week announced plans to strip the group of federal funding.
Planned Parenthood supporters in Los Angeles rally in 2015 for women’s access to reproductive health care on National Pink Out Day. Republicans in Congress this week announced plans to strip the group of federal funding. Associated Press file

The 15-month, $1.6 million congressional “investigation” into Planned Parenthood is finally over, with the chilling announcement that Republicans in charge plan now to eviscerate the nonprofit most associated with reproductive rights.

Tennessee’s Rep. Marsha Blackburn and the fellow Republicans on her “Select Panel on Infant Lives” – launched last year in the wake of the bogus “fetal parts” video smear led by California anti-abortion activist David Daleiden – issued their “recommendations” on Wednesday, with no Democratic input and zero proof of wrongdoing. Baseless as the proposals were, House Speaker Paul Ryan swiftly announced that at least one – senselessly stripping Planned Parenthood of hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds – will be among the first orders of business.

Blackburn also called for bans on abortion at 20 weeks and federal funding for research using fetal tissue. Never mind that the former is unconstitutional and the latter saves lives.

This crusade against Planned Parenthood in particular – and reproductive rights in general – is misogynistic, archaic and counterproductive. Good people can disagree on the morality of abortion, but women have had the right to choose for more than 40 years and polls show the vast majority of Americans want to keep it that way.

In the name of placating evangelicals in their base and attacking one of Democrats’ favored organizations, congressional Republicans have singled out a health care provider that annually serves 2.5 million sometimes desperate humans. About nine in 10 Planned Parenthood clients come for services that have nothing to do with pregnancy termination. Eight in 10 are on Medicaid; many of the rest have no insurance.

They are mothers, street people, students, immigrants, working women on lunch hours, daughters in their 20s who have aged out of eligibility for their parents’ insurance. They are hairdressers, waitresses, housekeepers, checkers at Walmart.

Stand outside a Planned Parenthood health center for an afternoon and you’ll get the picture: The people who go in and out are largely there, often with children in tow, for things like walk-in gynecological exams and discounted birth control prescriptions.

Only about 13 in 100 – 323,999 in 2015, according to the group’s most recently available annual report – come to end a pregnancy; two-thirds of the 1 million or so abortions performed in the U.S. each year are done elsewhere. Studies show that Planned Parenthood patients won’t necessarily find other care if its 650 clinics are shuttered.

And conservative ideologues don’t stop to think that Planned Parenthood’s contraception program alone has helped millions of poor women and teenagers avoid unwanted children. Or that much of its clientele comes from the white working-class voters who helped elect Donald Trump.

Californians can be forgiven if the fight over Planned Parenthood feels more like time-worn political theater than a real threat. This is a blue state. We haven’t suffered the arcane restrictions and mass clinic shutdowns that have constricted reproductive rights in Texas and other states.

But the crusade will hit home hard if President-elect Trump – whose new head of White House health policy is a former Republican Senate staffer who has claimed, falsely, that contraception causes abortions – acquiesces to his party’s true believers in Congress. Of the $500 million Planned Parenthood gets each year in Medicaid reimbursements, contraceptive discounts and other federal funding, about $260 million goes to health centers in California.

Without that money, which donations can’t come close to making up, most of the state’s 115 clinics could be threatened with closure, Kathy Kneer, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, told a Sacramento Bee editorial board member.

Kneer promises a battle royal if Congress takes aim at California clinics. But depending on the financial hit, patients in Bakersfield – represented by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy – could end up driving all the way to clinics in Los Angeles or Fresno. Patients in the Inland Empire might get sent to Orange County.

Merced and Modesto clinics – serving areas represented by Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, and Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove – might close, forcing women needing services there to trek to Fresno or Stockton. The Redding clinic, in the district of Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, might go away, too, leaving Chico and Eureka to serve the entire rural north state.

Free and low-cost contraception would go by the wayside. And a couple dozen health centers could end up with a caseload that currently includes some 850,000 Californians a year.

In a recent letter to Congress, the California Primary Care Association, an organization of community clinics, wrote that “eliminating Planned Parenthood from our state’s comprehensive network of care would put untenable stress on the remaining providers,” adding that “we do not have the capacity for such an increase in care.”

Politicians like Blackburn have zero stake in the well-being of, say, Central Valley teenagers who don’t want to get pregnant. But Californians including Majority Leader McCarthy should end this Planned Parenthood fatwa. Unprotected sex doesn’t stop just because you’ve limited the options of your constituents.

Meanwhile, pro-choice voters, in California and elsewhere, even those whose own choice would never include abortion, should understand that being a silent majority will no longer cut it. Supporters of Planned Parenthood plan to rally Jan. 17 in Sacramento, and will join the Jan. 21 Women’s March on Washington, there and across the country. You can also write or call your representatives in Congress.

This isn’t just about one nonprofit. It’s about the fundamental rights of women. The only reason Blackburn wrapped up her committee is that she no longer needs it. Her ilk now has the run of the federal government.