Can We Really Afford to Lose 700 Planned Parenthood Centers?

Recently, I noticed a post from my Facebook friend show up on my news feed. As he always provides thoughtful and engaging content on his page, my eyes were drawn to it immediately as I saw his name pop up. However, I was a little disappointed with what I saw: shared from the Secular Pro-Life Facebook page was a meme with the words, “There are 700 Planned Parenthood Clinics in the country; if they’re defunded, there’s only 9,170 qualified health care centers left.”

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Now, initially, one quick look at this meme may convince you that defunding Planned Parenthood might not be all that bad (after all, we literally have thousands of other healthcare centers in this country!) but a further analysis would say otherwise.

This post was from a few weeks ago before the Senate had opposed the bill to defund Planned Parenthood, but the attacks on this healthcare center have not stopped since, and conversation that continues to support Planned Parenthood is still relevant and vital. The main argument for defunding Planned Parenthood is held mostly by Republicans who are against the abortions being provided by this center and wish for the 450 million dollars in federal money to go elsewhere in the country’s budget. For the sake of factual accuracy, let’s note that the use of this money for abortions is prohibited by law; what this money does go towards is STI testing, contraception, sterilization procedures, pap tests, vaccinations, breast exams, pregnancy tests, and many other resources for women. In spite of all that Planned Parenthood provides, the fight continues, and the idea that we “won’t be missing out” if we lose 700 of these centers was born.blog2So maybe you’re still sitting here convinced that this meme provides a solid argument, but I would urge you to reconsider. Here’s why: even though Planned Parenthood clinics make up less than 10% of all health care centers, taking these centers away puts unnecessary burden on patients in more remote areas. What happens when there’s no longer a center within a couple miles? For a family sharing one car or an individual with disabilities preventing them from far travel, transportation can be difficult and expensive. The majority of Planned Parenthood’s patients are low-income and use the centers’ services with affordability as one of their main reasons for doing so. Even with reliable means of transportation, the expense of gas and care for a car can weigh heavily on a person or family that lives paycheck-to-paycheck.

To demonstrate my point, I’m going to use the area near my little, rural hometown as an example. My hometown is located in one of the poorest counties in Wisconsin and ranks 67 out of 72 in health outcomes, and the surrounding counties rank pretty darn close. Stricken by poverty and poor health, Jane, a 40-something-year-old single mother of two children, relies on her nearby Planned Parenthood in Portage, Wisconsin for her sexual and reproductive health care and information. Being just minutes away from her home, Planned Parenthood is easily accessible to Jane who relies on her sister for transportation, since she has a disability that prevents her from driving herself. If Planned Parenthood centers were to close down, Jane’s next best option is 40 miles away in Madison, but this option is nowhere near as comprehensive and is much less affordable with her insurance. Additionally, this clinic is considered general practice, which means that they are not fully stocked with the correct equipment and knowledge to provide full reproductive health care for women like Jane. Even so, she now has no transportation, as her sister does not have the time or money to drive her 80 miles roundtrip. For argument’s sake, let’s say that Jane’s disability miraculously disappears – it was a medical breakthrough, and the doctors found a solution! Still, taking an 80 mile trip is out of the question when Jane has two children to attend to and not enough money for a well-functioning car, let alone gas. This results in making Jane’s health care unaffordable and inaccessible.

Jane’s situation is not uncommon. In fact, if Planned Parenthood centers closed, you would see a lot more situations like Jane’s. Other family planning clinics serving low-income women and individuals are experiencing similar threats as Republican legislators push for unnecessary state audits that would close these centers down. This is no longer an attack on one organization but perhaps on affordable health care for women as a whole. The closing of only 7% of family planning clinics may not seem like much of a loss in the short-term but, in my opinion, could be devastating long-term and cause an unpleasant ripple effect.

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