Sept. 22, 2017
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Anson Stevens-Bollen

Dealing with Defunding

Planned Parenthood rakes in record donations as reproductive services come under threat

February 8, 2017, 12:00 am

More than 500 people arose at daybreak Thursday to attend Planned Parenthood’s annual Breakfast of Champions, the event’s largest turnout since it started four years ago.

Patrons filled round tables in the Eldorado Hotel ballroom and shelled out more than $100,000 for the nonprofit provider of reproductive health services. The money follows a national trend of donations pouring into nonprofit groups that advocate for causes anathema to President Donald Trump’s agenda.

Conservatives in Washington for years have threatened to yank Medicaid funding from Planned Parenthood. Those efforts have consistently failed, but with Republicans seizing control of both Congressional chambers, not to mention the White House, the organization is now facing the real possibility of losing a significant source of revenue, threatening its health care centers across the country.

As Wendy Davis, the former Texas state senator, gubernatorial candidate and invited guest speaker, put it, women “are seeing a renewed assault on the reproductive freedoms that gave us opportunities in the workforce.”

Davis rose to political prominence in the wee hours of a summer night in 2013 in Austin by filibustering an anti-abortion bill. Speaking from a lectern at the breakfast, she offered her home state as a cautionary tale for what can happen when the government cuts women’s health programs. Since Texas started rolling back access to contraceptive and abortion services in 2011, teenage pregnancy rates haven’t declined with the rest of the nation. And the maternal death rate in Texas has nearly doubled.

Cuts to Planned Parenthood’s funding could disproportionately sting New Mexico, where 24 percent of women are on Medicaid (compared with 15 percent nationally).

Planned Parenthood operates six health care centers in the state, offering services such as contraception, uterine care, cervical and breast cancer screenings, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and abortions. Statewide, the organization served about 11,000 patients in 2016, including about 6,000 patients on Medicaid. The nonprofit’s Santa Fe location (730 St. Michael’s Drive, Ste. 4B, 982-3684) served 1,541 patients in the same year, including 500 Medicaid patients.

According to a 2010 analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, the group saw about 18 percent of clients in New Mexico seeking publicly funded family planning services, a disproportionately large share.

All of that could be under threat if Congress pulls the group’s funding. “What they’re talking about doing is, quite frankly, intentionally creating a public health crisis,” says Vicki Cowart, CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains, which oversees this state, Colorado, Wyoming and southern Nevada. “There are not enough providers to pick up the slack.”

Shannon Sanchez-Youngman, a University of New Mexico faculty researcher who specializes in public health, says the patchwork of nonprofits providing women’s reproductive health services in the state is already fragile.

Cutting Planned Parenthood’s funding could be especially damaging for rural areas served by the organization, notably Farmington.

“Given that this is a rural state and one of the poorest states in the country, there is already very little access to health care,” Sanchez-Youngman says, pointing to research by the Department of Health showing that 40 percent of New Mexicans lack access to basic health necessities. “We have a shortage of providers. In the research I do, for women in rural areas, one of their top needs is access to reproductive health care.”

Santa Fe community health care provider La Familia Medical Center (1035 Alto St., 982-5460) could potentially absorb some low-income patients if the local Planned Parenthood office were to scale back or completely shutter, according to medical director Wendy Johnson. But La Familia wouldn’t be able to replace the organization.

“We really depend on that relationship with Planned Parenthood to refer them to services we don’t offer, namely abortion,” says Johnson. Santa Fe’s only full-service hospital, Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, does not provide abortion services.

“It’s also an issue of patient choice. Some people prefer to get their services from Planned Parenthood,” Johnson adds. “We support them and want to see them around for a long time.”

Under New Mexico law, women making up to 250 percent of federal poverty guidelines are eligible for financial assistance for family planning services, a higher threshold than most states and the 133 percent line drawn by the Affordable Care Act.

Pamelya Herndon, executive director of the Southwest Women’s Law Center, says the state Legislature should stand by that state policy if Congress moves to weaken or repeal former president Obama’s signature health law. “What we expect the state of New Mexico to do is to continue to support women and continue to provide family planning services,” Herndon says. “‘Low-income’ as set by the federal government is really not what is indicative of what is low-income for women.”

And while Congress seems intent on rolling back the Affordable Care Act, state lawmakers have introduced legislation that would adopt as state law provisions of the law that guarantee access to all forms of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

“I just don’t trust what’s going to happen on the federal level,” says Rep. Debbie Armstrong, D-Albuquerque, one of the bill’s five original sponsors. She says the president’s appointee for secretary of the US Health and Human Services Department, Tom Price, has an agenda to decrease access to women’s healthcare.

Armstrong’s bill would also require insurers to cover up to 12 months of birth control at once and some over-the-counter methods of contraception. The bill is currently assigned to the Health and Human Services Committee.

The ascent of President Trump, who once bragged about groping women and asserted that those who seek abortions should receive “some sort of punishment,” has galvanized support for women’s rights and reproductive freedoms on a grassroots level. Millions of women and men marched in cities across the country, including Santa Fe, the day after the presidential inauguration.

“Where women are right now is they feel they should be doing something and not just sitting back and allowing things to happen,” Herndon says.

“We can’t allow fear to immobilize us,” Davis tells SFR. “We have to use our voices and fight back.”

Jeff Proctor contributed reporting to this story.


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