When Jaime Benner was a teenager, her mum took her to Planned Parenthood to get on birth control.
When she found a lump in her breast a decade later, a local provider told Benner it would take three weeks to see her. She again turned to Planned Parenthood, which saw her that day.
Near Benner’s tiny town of Rodman, New York, which she describes as the “middle of nowhere,” the Planned Parenthood center has been “part of the community” for decades.
Over half of Planned Parenthood’s 650 health centres are in rural or medically underserved areas with health professional shortages. In 105 counties across the US, Planned Parenthood is the only full-service reproductive health clinic. Benner’s Jefferson County is one of them.
“Especially in an area like this where we’re already underserved and Planned Parenthood is so consequential to our community, I cannot imagine what it would be like if we didn’t have them here,” Benner, a 30-year-old insurance agent who has been speaking out about her experiences with the organisation, told Business Insider in March. “We need it, and I’m pretty sure the majority of the United States is rural … There are more places like where I live than big cities.”
Republicans have been trying to “defund” Planned Parenthood for years. The plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act — which passed the House in May and was unveiled in the Senate on Thursday — would bring that goal to fruition.
The Senate version, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act, wouldn’t allow funding from the bill to help people purchase insurance plans that include coverage for abortions, in any case besides saving the life of the mother, incest, or rape.
The House version of the bill, known as the American Health Care Act, has a provision that wouldn’t allow states to use “direct spending” on “prohibited entities” with federal funds allocated from the AHCA for one year. Prohibited entities are defined as any “essential community provider” that is “primarily engaged in family planning services, reproductive health, and related medical care” or “provides for abortions.”
The Senate version of the bill, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he wants the chamber to vote on before the July 4 recess, includes a similar one year provision.
Planned Parenthood meets that definition, despite the fact that it is already illegal to use federal funds to pay for an abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or if the mother’s health is endangered. Congress first passed the Hyde Amendment blocking the funds in 1977, four years after the Supreme Court ruled women have a constitutional right to abortion in Roe v. Wade.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released a report in March concluding that withholding funds for longer than a year would save money outright, but also end up costing the government money, because so many low- and middle-income women rely on Planned Parenthood for contraceptive care, especially.
“By CBO’s estimates, in the one-year period in which federal funds for Planned Parenthood would be prohibited under the legislation, the number of births in the Medicaid program would increase by several thousand, increasing direct spending for Medicaid by $US21 million in 2017 and by $US77 million over the 2017-2026 period,” the report reads.
The move is wildly unpopular among Americans. A Quinnipiac University poll conducted in January found that 62% of voters oppose defunding Planned Parenthood. And a PerryUndem poll from March found that 74% oppose taking away Planned Parenthood funds that are used for birth control, yearly checkups, and cancer screenings for low-income women.
According to the organisation’s most recent annual report, 41% ($US555 million) of Planned Parenthood’s funding each year comes from government reimbursements and grants, and most of its services aren’t abortions:
Erica Sackin, director of political communications for Planned Parenthood, said the century-old family planning provider is more than just abortions for the 2.5 million people who visit their health centres each year.
“They can turn to us if they need to no matter what,” she told Business Insider in December amid the fervor of Trump winning the presidency. “That’s what’s under attack.”
‘Our nation’s most vulnerable patients’
Benner was between jobs, and health insurance, when she discovered the lump in her breast, and Planned Parenthood staff helped her sign up for Medicaid so she could afford her cancer treatment.
Nearly two-thirds of the organisation’s patients rely on public programs like Medicaid to pay for their care. “Defunding” the organisation, (as many states have and now Congress proposes to do with the AHCA), means those patients, like Benner, would have to pay for healthcare out of pocket.
A dozen associations of medical professionals sent a letter to Congress in February urging them not to cut funding for Planned Parenthood because it would “severely curtail women’s access to essential healthcare services.”
“At a time when there is much uncertainty about the future of affordable healthcare in our country, it is dangerous to cut off access to the life-saving preventive care that Planned Parenthood provides to some of our nation’s most vulnerable patients,” the letter reads.
The American Medical Association sent a letter to senators on Monday expressing its members’ opposition to the GOP plan, calling out the Planned Parenthood defunding for preventing low-income patients in particular from choosing one of the organisation’s 650 health centres for their care.
“These provisions violate longstanding AMA policy on patients’ freedom to choose their providers and physicians’ freedom to practice in the setting of their choice,” AMA CEO Dr. James L. Madara wrote in the letter.
In a tweetstorm on March 22, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards criticised politicians that have suggested other healthcare centres could absorb the organisation’s patients if the AHCA cuts its funding.
“To justify this attack, politicians like
@VP, @SpeakerRyan, & @SecPriceMD have repeatedly — & falsely — claimed women can just go elsewhere,” she tweeted. “Why can’t women just go somewhere else instead of PP? For starters, in many communities, there *is* nowhere else.”
Abortion activists had a brief victory after Republicans pulled the AHCA bill from a vote on March 24 when they didn’t have enough votes. But another version of the bill (both contained defunding provisions) passed the House 217-213 on May 4, with 20 Republicans and all Democrats voting against it.
The Senate will have to pass its bill next, the two versions will have to be reconciled, and then the president will have to sign the resulting bill, in order for the GOP healthcare plan to become law.
‘Programs like that saved my life’
When Benner went to Planned Parenthood for the lump in her breast, the nurse examined it and set up an appointment with a radiologist for her to have a mammogram.
The results were inconclusive, so staff got Benner an appointment at a clinic in Rochester that diagnosed her with breast cancer that day.
She received a double mastectomy 2.5 weeks later.
If she had waited the three weeks for the earliest appointment with the local provider, Benner’s condition would likely have progressed to advanced, Stage IV breast cancer since it was moving into her lymphatic system. As she underwent chemotherapy and radiation, Planned Parenthood staff checked in on her, and the doctor there stuck with her throughout her treatment.
After Benner’s breast cancer went into remission, staff at her clinic asked if she wanted to share her story, and she started speaking out about her experience with Planned Parenthood. She met with members of Congress at the US Capitol and appears in an ad for the organisation encouraging President Donald Trump to “stand with survivors, protect Planned Parenthood.”
“Without programs like this, I wouldn’t be alive,” she said. “My story, like many other stories I’ve heard since I told my story, show that Planned Parenthood is a necessary medical provider.”
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