We are at a critical crossroads in the debate over comprehensive healthcare reform. As the Senate moves forward with legislation that will impact the lives of all Americans, ensuring that all women have access to quality healthcare services is of the utmost importance. However, access to these critical services for millions of women is currently in jeopardy as members of the House and Senate continue to push for legislation that would defund Planned Parenthood.
I have been a supporter of Planned Parenthood for many years in large part because, like my Republican colleagues, I also want see the number of abortions reduced. The reality is access to contraception, healthcare and family planning reduces the incidence of abortion. It is a fact that abortion has reached the lowest number on record. Congress should not limit or prohibit access to women’s healthcare services. Doing so will only bring negative unintended consequences, endanger women and primarily hurt the poor and those who need help and access to care the most.
The devastating impacts of eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood are real, and we have experienced them in states across the country. We can look to these states to see what happens when Planned Parenthood was defunded.
In Texas, 30,000 fewer women received healthcare following the state’s takeover of Texas Women’s Health Program, according to a report by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
In Kansas, 14,000 women did not receive access to birth control, cancer screenings, STI tests, well-woman exams, and other care through the Title X program.
In Wisconsin in 2011, legislation barred Planned Parenthood from receiving Title V Maternal and Child Health Block Grant funds, even though 50 percent of the counties served by Planned Parenthood would have no alternative provider. Women had no place to go for health care services.
While the issue of abortion is deeply divided – I have respect for the views of people on both sides – women's healthcare should not be up for debate. However, there is overwhelming support for a women’s right to choice in this country. Independent polling shows that 70 percent of American voters oppose blocking patients from accessing Planned Parenthood, including 50 percent of Trump voters.
Our elected officials have a duty to enact legislation that allows women to access critical preventative care services from a trusted provider. For so many individuals, particularly those living in rural and underserved areas, Planned Parenthood is that provider and oftentimes, the only one.
The American Health Care Act of 2017 that passed the House of Representatives earlier this year with Republican support would prohibit Planned Parenthood — and Planned Parenthood alone — from being reimbursed for providing essential preventative healthcare services to millions of women across the country. To be clear, there is no line item in the budget for Planned Parenthood and federal law under the Hyde Amendment of 1973 prohibits any money from funding abortion services.
The only thing "defunding" Planned Parenthood does is prevent millions of women who rely on Medicaid and other federal programs from accessing preventative low-cost healthcare services, including cancer screenings, HIV and STI testing, that they cannot get anywhere else.
When faced with the fact that Planned Parenthood provides essential healthcare services to those who quite literally have nowhere else to turn, I have heard many argue that Community Health Centers can simply absorb their patient base. Sadly, this is false. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 54 percent of Planned Parenthood health centers are in health professional shortage areas, rural or medically underserved areas. Eliminating funding for Planned Parenthood would eliminate access to life saving preventative healthcare services to millions of Americans who need it the most.
Personal freedom and choice is part of our country’s heritage and has been since the beginning. The ball is in the Senate's court now. Republicans have a unique opportunity to rise above partisan politics and put the rhetoric aside. We need to face the hard reality that defunding Planned Parenthood is simply not the way to make our healthcare system better for women and American families — and will only serve to increase the number of abortions.
Richard Hanna is a former Republican U.S. Congressman from New York. He served the in Congress from 2011 until 2017.
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