August 23, 2015; New Orleans Advocate and Tampa Bay Times

This was a better week for the embattled women’s healthcare organization. The number of states that have moved forward with efforts to remove Planned Parenthood from their Medicaid programs remained at five; no additional states announced plans to defund Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood’s public standing does not seem to have been badly hurt by the controversy over its practice of providing fetal tissues to medical researchers. Reuters News Service released the results of a new poll that showed strong support for federal funding of the services provided by Planned Parenthood and for Planned Parenthood itself:

Seventy-three percent of respondents said they supported federal funding for an unnamed group to provide women’s health exams, 69 percent backed federal dollars for prenatal services, and 59 percent were in favor of it for contraception. Both Democrats and Republicans polled supported federal funding for the services. When the question was asked a different way, more participants said they backed federal dollars for Planned Parenthood specifically to provide those services. Overall, 54 percent supported federal funding of Planned Parenthood, and 26 percent opposed it.

In Louisiana, supporters of the organization rallied outside Governor Bobby Jindal’s residence to protest his efforts to end Planned Parenthood funding. The New Orleans Advocate described the events outside the governor’s mansion:

About 50 people gathered in a field across the street from the Governor’s Mansion for the protest of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decision to stop Planned Parenthood’s reimbursement for health care services. Outside the mansion gates, at Jindal’s counterdemonstration, the governor’s aides played controversial undercover videos released by an anti-abortion group that alleges Planned Parenthood facilities engage in selling fetal body parts. But the soundtrack wasn’t clear, and bright sunlight washed out the images on the screen.

Melissa Flournoy, the Louisiana state director of Planned Parenthood, told the protesters, “We know that for Gov. Jindal, health care is not a priority. Under Gov. Jindal’s term of office, Louisiana continues to have the highest rate of sexually transmitted infections, increasing teen pregnancy rates, less access to health care…and we’re here to tell you that Planned Parenthood is part of the important safety net for preventive health care in Louisiana.”

In a statement from the campaign trail, Jindal said, “We hope the protesters will take a minute to watch [the videos], so they’ll have an opportunity to see first-hand our concerns with Planned Parenthood practices. Planned Parenthood does not represent the values of the people of Louisiana and shows a fundamental disrespect for human life.”

Interestingly, Planned Parenthood has a new health center under construction in New Orleans and they are planning to apply for it to be licensed as an abortion clinic. The site has been subject to vandalism attempts, including having a security vehicle set on fire outside the gate.

In Florida, Planned Parenthood went to federal court challenging a state finding that its services had violated state law. According to the Tampa Bay Times:

Planned Parenthood on Monday requested that a judge intervene in its ongoing battle with the Agency for Health Care Administration over state regulatory violations it was issued August 5th. The request for an emergency injunction centers around three Planned Parenthood clinics cited for illegally performing second-trimester abortions while holding only a license for first-trimester abortions. Planned Parenthood has said the procedures were first-trimester abortions, and that the citations by AHCA violate the agency’s own licensing rules. “We’re trying to get clarification from the court as to our rights and responsibilities,” Planned Parenthood lawyer Julie Gallagher said. “We’re seeking an injunction to prevent AHCA from taking any further action against us in the form of sanctions or actions against our clinics.”

The Hill described efforts by Planned Parenthood supporter Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, to begin an investigation into the Center for Medical Progress, the group whose video series set off the attacks, trying to whether the group broke any state or federal laws. “The group has…been asking for donations as a nonprofit charitable organization for the last two years, which Cummings said contrasts with its current self-identification as a group of citizen journalists.” Moreover, the establishment of a fake company by anti-abortion activist David Daleiden in order to gain entry into clinics and meetings with Planned Parenthood officials has been blasted by Democrats, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, as potentially illegal.

Cummings warned that if Republican leaders of the committee decide to hold hearings on Planned Parenthood, he would ask Daleiden to testify. “Any legitimate and balanced congressional investigation must also address your group’s role in these activities.”

Finally, Planned Parenthood’s assertions that clients they were no longer able to serve would have difficulty finding alternate providers received support from Joseph Potter, a professor of sociology and the principal investigator of the Texas Policy Evaluation Project. In an op-ed in the Dallas News, Potter discussed the findings of research conducted on the Texas health care system following the state’s severely reducing Planned Parenthood funding:

The drastic budget cuts caused many clinics to close, and those that remained open had to curtail their services, especially providing the more expensive and more effective contraceptive methods such as IUDs and implants. Many Texas lawmakers, including Republican legislators, now realize that these massive cuts adversely affected women and were a mistake.

Our initial analysis showed not all federally qualified health centers or other providers of comprehensive care at the community level are interested in taking up the bureaucratic and financial challenges of becoming a family planning provider…many of them simply do not have the trained personnel and experience in women’s health care that former providers had.

Finding a new provider and securing a timely appointment is often a major challenge, especially in small cities such as Midland or in the Rio Grande Valley, where alternate providers are few and far between. Additionally, women may have to make multiple visits, undergo a series of exams and be charged copayments before actually getting a renewal of their contraceptive method.

And, of course, not everyone is willing to change providers. For example, a substantial number of users of injectable contraception returned to Planned Parenthood clinics after the ban even though doing so meant that they would have to pay about $100 for their next shot. In reproductive and sexual health, trust is important, especially for teens and people in small communities.

What have these problems meant for Texas women? In short, fewer have received contraceptive services, fewer use highly effective methods, some have had unintended pregnancies, and some have had abortions they would not have had if not for these policies.

—Marty Levine