Last week, Republicans in the Minnesota House of Representatives—40 of them, including some in the House leadership—introduced two bills that would make Planned Parenthood ineligible for Title X funding, the federal family planning program that began in 1972 through bipartisan legislation, legislation that was then signed by President Richard Nixon.
Does this sound familiar? That’s because Congress tried to do this on the federal level multiple times last summer. It failed. Now it seems politicians are driving this “defund Planned Parenthood” effort state by state, and it has arrived in Minnesota.
The funding in question is never used for abortion and is used only for preventive health care services such as birth control, clinical breast exams and STD testing. People who qualify for Title X funding usually have no other funding source for their basic health care. Blocking access to Planned Parenthood would affect 45,000 people who receive their health care at Title X Planned Parenthood clinics in Minnesota. It would be especially harmful to the 23,000 people who rely directly on Title X funding for their care and have no other way to pay for it.
Politicians like to argue that our patients can simply go to other health care providers, but tragically, that’s not the case. There are devastating consequences for women when politicians block access to care at Planned Parenthood. In Indiana, it led to an HIV epidemic; in Texas, it led to tens of thousands of unintended pregnancies, and in Tennessee, it led to a 94 percent drop in services.
Fifty-five percent of Planned Parenthood clinics in Minnesota are in rural or medically underserved areas, meaning that often there is no alternative to Planned Parenthood. In fact, the idea that other providers could just absorb Planned Parenthood’s patients has been resoundingly dismissed by experts — in fact, the American Public Health Association called the idea ludicrous.
This legislation in Minnesota is part of a broader political agenda by conservative Republicans to dismantle Planned Parenthood without regard to the thousands of women who rely on us every year for care. And, by the way, it’s not a popular agenda.
Statewide polls this month showed that 69 percent of Minnesotans want to see funding for the family planning and contraceptive services Planned Parenthood provides stay the same or increase. This is consistent with national polling. Poll after poll confirms that the public supports Planned Parenthood and wants access to its services available to women across the nation. To be sure, there’s a political price to pay for politicians who try to block patients from the care Planned Parenthood provides. It’s wrongheaded and unpopular and, frankly, voters have no political appetite for it.
It’s possible the reason so many people support Planned Parenthood and programs like Title X is because they work. In 2010, Title X saved $94 million in federal and state taxpayer funds. In 2012, family planning services at Minnesota’s Title X-funded health centers helped prevent 12,800 unintended pregnancies, which would likely have resulted in 6,300 unintended births and 4,400 abortions. In fact, without publicly funded family planning, the number of unintended pregnancies and abortions in Minnesota would be 32 percent higher.
In truth, Planned Parenthood is no different from every other provider in the state—including Allina, Health Partners and others—that are reimbursed for services provided to patients, but it is singled out in pursuit of a political agenda that is unpopular with everyone except the right-wing base of the politicians promoting this agenda.
We need our legislators to stop attacking women’s health and start focusing on doing things that actually improve people’s lives.