Despite attempts to cut its federal funding, officials in Planned Parenthood’s Southwest Ohio Region insist closing isn’t an option.
“I won’t close,” says Becki Brenner, regional president. “We will find a way to provide our services."
Her concern isn’t merely for her organization’s survival but for the many people who have lost their jobs, had their COBRA health insurance expire or women who need health-care services and can’t afford them and don’t have anywhere else to go.
“Do we not care?” Brenner asks rhetorically, questioning the public’s reaction to the attack by Congressional Republicans on women’s health care and the proposed elimination of the national family-planning program funded by Title X grants.
Paula Westwood, executive director of Right to Life of Greater Cincinnati, doesn’t view Planned Parenthood’s potential defunding as an attack. Rather, she believes it’s a method for ending access to a medically unnecessary procedure.
“They will not be hurt in a great way financially by this,” Westwood says, adding that individuals relying on the agency for health-care services can go to other local agencies also offering free services.
The U.S. House of Representatives is expected to vote soon on another three-week stopgap funding bill to avert the shutdown of the federal government. Although some lawmakers would welcome the shutdown in hopes of forcing a vote on a proposed federal budget, many political pundits believe the shutdown would play well for Democrats but not for Republicans.
At a March 11 press conference, President Obama said he wouldn’t sign a bill with riders attached that attempt to promote a political or ideological agenda, such as defunding Planned Parenthood.
“If Republicans are interested in social issues that they want to promote, they should put a bill on the floor of the House and promote it, have an up-or-down vote, send it over to the Senate,” Obama said.
At the heart of the budget bill debate is the proposed elimination of Planned Parenthood’s federal funding. The group receives the majority share — $317 million — of Title X funds. That’s a provision in the Public Health Service Act, a bill signed into law by President Nixon in 1970 to provide family planning services.
Dubbing it as a way to help decrease the deficit, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) proposed the cuts that affect Planned Parenthood.
Although her organization does provide abortions, Brenner says it cannot legally co-mingle funds from federal sources to pay for that service. In fact, a number of programs the organization offers must maintain its own financial ledger because of strict federal and state regulation.
“I am audited every year by the Ohio Department of Health, and they will let me know if I have a problem,” she says.
Westwood disputes Planned Parenthood’s explanation; she runs a nonprofit and understands at times how funds meant for one item have to be used for another, she says.
Brenner countered the disbelief by asking if the Right to Life organization receives federal or state funds.
“We do not receive any governmental funding,” Westwood replies. “We are strictly donation supported.”
Brenner says she respects what Republicans are trying to do and is surprised it’s taken this long for them to go after the money.
“It’s what I would have done,” she says.
But she notes the federally funded programs for women and children have always been easy targets for lawmakers in times of economic crisis, because it’s easier to handle than help the nation move forward by creating jobs and investment.
Programs possibly affected by the proposed cuts include health-care services for the low-income and uninsured, family planning, teen pregnancy prevention, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and services to prevent HIV/AIDS and domestic violence.