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Government, Politics & Issues

Planned Parenthood gears up to fight House vote to cut funding

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 19, 2011 - A regional leader of Planned Parenthood says the group will use a broad grass-roots campaign to stop congressional efforts to eliminate funding for the organization.

The group's action is in response to a House vote early Friday afternoon to cut off all funding to Planned Parenthood. Members of the House have been targeting discretionary programs as part of an overall effort to reduce the federal budget. Planned Parenthood, a long time provider of abortions as well as other family planning services, came into the crosshairs. (The Hyde amendment has long prevented any federal money for being spent on abortion.) The House also voted to eliminate funding for Title X family planning as well.

"We have a nationwide coordinated Senate strategy, which began this afternoon, to stop this extreme agenda," said Paula Gianino, executive director of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region. The organization serves the St. Louis area as well as Springfield and Joplin. The Senate is not expected to go along with the House votes.

Eliminating funding for both Planned Parenthood and Title X, she says, "will mean more disease, more cervical and breast cancer, more unintended pregnancies, an increase in teen pregnancies, more sexually transmitted infections, and we'll see more abortion."

She said her group's strategy will include intense lobbying of senators who return to their home districts next week. A lobbying day in Washington is planned for March 1 and "the largest phone bank in Planned Parenthood history" on March 2.

If the House vote prevails, she said, the outcome would mean "Planned Parenthood will not be allowed to be a provider of Medicaid services. We wouldn't be able to participate in any federal funding for sexually transmitted-infection testing and treatment, or the maternal child health block grant." (The goal of the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant is to improve the health of all mothers and children. Its programs include newborn screening and genetic services, efforts to address problems such as lead poisoning, and health and safety issues in child care facilities.)

She says the local Planned Parenthood gets about $600,000 in Title X funds for comprehensive family planning and other assistance to women. The local office serves over 50,000 people. Roughly 30 percent of its clients are Medicaid recipients lacking private health insurance.

The funding is cost effective, she said, because the money "provides us roughly $54 a woman to take care of the entire range of services, including ob-gyn services, PAP tests, other lab tests, comprehensive birth control for a year and all testing and treatment for STDs."

Allison Hile, executive director of the St. Louis Teen Pregnancy & Prevention Partnership, agrees that the House bill goes beyond the abortion debate.

"The House is threatening to get rid of all Title X funds, which provide family planning services, STD testing and treatment, and cancer screening to poor women through some Planned Parenthoods and many federally qualified health centers and health departments serving 4.7 million" clients in 2008. In Missouri, she said, the services paid through Title X funds "save $6.20 for every dollar invested."

State Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, praised the House vote, saying it is in step with wishes of many Missouri lawmakers.

"The U.S. House is following in the steps of the Missouri House," she said, recalling the time when that body went after Planned Parenthood when Cunningham was a House member.

"The question is not whether Planned Parenthood can provide services. It's whether we, because of our values, want to fund any organization that, as part of its services, provides abortion services. It's no secret that Planned Parenthood does that. So I would agree with the move by the U.S. House," Cunningham said.

The National Right to Life Committee, which describes itself as the nationwide federation of state right-to-life organizations, praised the House action.

After the vote, the group's legislative director, Douglas Johnson, sent a letter to House members saying, "This landmark vote demonstrates that most House members now recognize Planned Parenthood is a hyper-political, under-regulated, out-of-control mega-marketer of abortion as a method of birth control."

Gianino charged that Planned Parenthood is a target for ideological reasons having nothing to do with the federal deficit.

"We've been expecting this. This is political hardball, political payback at its extreme. Most Americans don't expect Congress to be working on these social issues. They are not even on the American public's radar. The economy and jobs are the most pressing issues."

She says it's now up to a bipartisan move by the Senate "to reject this extreme agenda and vendetta."

Funding for the Beacon's health reporting is provided in part by the Missouri Foundation for Health, a philanthropic organization that aims to improve the health of the people in the communities it serves.

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