By Sally Wiedenbeck
Last week the United States House of Representatives passed a bill that would eliminate all federal funding for Planned Parenthood’s services. Due to the hot-button nature of any issue in which Planned Parenthood is involved there is a lot of misinformation and controversy surrounding this bill.
After I had graduated high school I took a semester off of school, during which time I interned in the Education and Diversity department of Planned Parenthood of Saint Louis. During that semester, I organized a campaign to introduce comprehensive sexuality education in a local high school, helped develop curriculum for the teen education program, was involved with running the teen advocacy group, and organized the advocacy group’s presentation on teen dating violence. Because of my background working for the preventative health efforts of Planned Parenthood, I take the implications of this bill very seriously.
First the facts: it is already the case that no federal funding goes to the arm of Planned Parenthood that provides abortions. Planned Parenthood is structured such that the “wing” of the organization that administers abortions is separate from its main sexual health clinic, as well as from its political and educational wings. This separation guarantees that, as required by the law, no federal money is ever allocated to the arm of Planned Parenthood that is responsible for providing abortions.
The vast majority of the services provided by Planned Parenthood, and the only ones that currently receive federal funding, are educational, women’s health, and sexual health services. One of the main goals of these programs is to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place by providing education about birth control options and access to reproductive health services. Without federal funding to support these vital preventative services, the number of unwanted pregnancies will rise significantly. This bill may well have the unintended effect of increasing abortions, and that rise will most likely be in unsafe abortions.
Planned Parenthood’s health clinics provide many vital health services, including well women exams, well male exams, birth control counseling and prescriptions, and STI screening and treatment. Without the funding to continue to provide these services at affordable costs, the availability of these services, particularly to low-income communities, will plummet. Without access to these services, many communities will experience a rise in STI infection rate as well as a rise in untreated STIs and other sexual health issues such as cervical cancer. With lack of available testing and treatment, fewer people will opt to get tested for STIs and many who are infected will remain unaware of their status. This will lead to an even greater increase in sexually transmitted infection rates across the country.
The aim of this bill is not to cut off federal funding for abortion providers; that has already been done. The aim and possible effect of this bill is to shut down Planned Parenthood. The people behind this bill believe that shutting down Planned Parenthood would cut off access to abortions. What it would really do is cut off access not only to safe abortions, but to low-cost, high-quality reproductive health care that millions of people rely on every year to stay safe and healthy.