When Jamie 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. “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 current plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would bring that goal to fruition.
The GOP 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.
Prohibited entities are defined in the bill as any “essential community provider” that is “primarily engaged in family planning services, reproductive health, and related medical care” or “provides for abortions” in any case besides saving the life of the mother, incest, or rape.
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 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, well-woman care, and cancer screenings for low-income women.
According to the organisation’s most recent annual report, most of its funds go to services other than abortion:
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. “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 health care 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 health care services.”
“At a time when there is much uncertainty about the future of affordable health care 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.
In a tweetstorm on Wednesday, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards criticised politicians that have suggested other health care 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.”
‘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.”
The vote in the House on the AHCA is scheduled for Thursday.
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