Development & Aid, Gender, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, North America, Women's Health

U.S.: Assault on Reproductive Health Services Shifts to States

Inaki Borda

NEW YORK, Aug 3 2011 (IPS) - With Republican-led efforts to divert funding from the reproductive health provider Planned Parenthood stumbling in Washington, the battle has moved to the states, with mixed results.

In February, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would have stripped federal Title X funding from Planned Parenthood, cutting money for contraceptives, HIV tests, breast cancer screenings and reproductive health services for predominantly low-income patients.

The main justification for this defunding was, according to Republicans, to prevent Planned Parenthood from using taxpayer money to carry out abortions.

“Nobody is saying Planned Parenthood can’t be the leading advocate of abortion on demand, but why do I have to pay for it?” declared Rep. Mike Pence, who introduced the amendment.

However, federal law already prohibits Planned Parenthood from performing abortions using government funding.

In April, the Senate blocked that bill, with a vote overwhelmingly along party lines.

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA), called proponents of the bill “extremists” who are attacking “critical health services with a new vote against Planned Parenthood”.

PPFA notes that it provides four million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, annually. It also boasts a million cervical cancer screenings and 830,000 breast exams each year.

Republican lawmakers in five states – Indiana, North Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Kansas – have since defunded Planned Parenthood in their 2011 legislative sessions.

The organisation has already filed lawsuits challenging those budget cuts in North Carolina, Kansas and Indiana.

Texas also passed a bill that puts Planned Parenthood at the bottom of the priority list for state funds.

What is more, a McKinney Planned Parenthood office in Texas was attacked with a Molotov cocktail last week. This local office does not offer abortion procedures.

One of the most polemic resolutions took place in New Hampshire, where the state’s executive council, comprised of five Republicans, rejected up to 1.8 million dollars in funding for the Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, which provides privately funded abortions.

The decision is expected to affect an average of 120 low-income women, as well as a large number of uninsured people.

“Patients who used to be able to come to us for their pills now have to walk away,” said Jennifer Frizzell, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

State and federal funds made up about 20 percent of the Planned Parenthood’s annual budget in New Hampshire.

Frizzell said the group is considering filing suit, because “If this funding isn’t restored, we may have to start closing centres.”

In New York City, some of most aggressive assaults on Planned Parenthood have been waged by the so-called crisis pregnancy centres, like Expectant Mother Care (EMC)-Front Line and Life Centres, whose main purpose is to counsel women against having abortions.

In July, a New York City law that would require pregnancy centres to disclose more information about their services was blocked by a Manhattan federal court judge.

According to a press release issued by Joan Malin, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood in New York (PPNY), crisis pregnancy centres masquerade as licensed medical facilities. She added that they collect personal and health insurance information and offer services like ultrasounds, which lead women to mistakenly believe they are visiting a medical centre, when they are not.

“As one of the largest reproductive health care providers in New York City we have all too often seen the impact of deceptive practices by crisis pregnancy centres first hand,” Malin said.

Under the premise that these pregnancy centres do not show all the possible options to women, Local Law 17, signed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in May and supported by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, would require these centres to “post signs in the lobbies of their counseling centres, add extensive additional written language to their advertising materials, and to provide oral statements during both ‘in person’ and telephonic conversations regarding the services offered by crisis pregnancy centres,” according to ACJU, one of the counsels for the plaintiffs.

Last month, the law was struck down by Judge William Pauley as “unconstitutionally vague”, although he conceded the harm that can be caused to pregnant, at-risk women by unlicensed ultrasound technicians “operating in pseudo-medical settings”.

“We think this is a resounding defeat of the Gestapo-like tactics of Christine Quinn and Mayor Bloomberg,” Chris Slattery, director and founder of Expectant Mother Care (EMC)-Front Line, told IPS.

“Cutting Planned Parenthood funding is good because it hurts their ability to offer and expand abortions, and there are many county and town agencies to provide needed women’s services in their absence,” he said.

EMC was one of the plaintiffs in the case.

“This is one of the most important First Amendment decisions in American history, and will very strongly boost pro-life free speech initiatives and protect pregnancy centres not only here in New York, but across America,” he added.

Backers of the law plan to appeal Judge Pauley’s ruling. Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, the law’s lead sponsor, told IPS in an e-mail, “The judge got it wrong. Disappointed but not discouraged.”

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