Kevin Hagen/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Women Are Speaking Out To Defend Planned Parenthood

On Saturday, April 22, about 30 people, including Planned Parenthood volunteers and supporters, gathered in a small room in Las Vegas to listen to a panel of three Planned Parenthood patients discuss their health care experiences. During the discussion, Stephanie Roberts, the manager at a West Charleston Planned Parenthood health center in Las Vegas, shared a story about a recent patient, who had moved to Las Vegas from Alaska and had come to the clinic to ask for birth control.

Because the woman was in her early 50s, Roberts thought it was an odd request. Upon further questioning, however, she discovered that the patient had experienced heavy bleeding. When she visited an urgent care center in Alaska, she could not afford to pay for testing, so the clinic had given her only birth control as a bandage-type measure to control her symptoms. Roberts ended up enrolling the patient in a cancer prevention screening program in Nevada, where she underwent a pap smear and a pelvic exam. Doctors then diagnosed the woman with cervical cancer.

“We were able to link her up with the proper care and specialist,” Roberts said during the roundtable. “If we hadn’t have dug deeper, I don’t really know what would have happened.”

Such stories are common in states like Nevada, where an estimated 55% of Planned Parenthood patients are at or below the poverty line, Planned Parenthood Federation of America Press Officer Ben Halle told Romper in an email interview.

Thanks to the American Healthcare Act (ACHA), which passed on Thurs., May 4 in the House of Representatives, as well as efforts on the state level to strip Planned Parenthood of its funding, the organization is now under siege, prompting many low-income women who have benefited from Planned Parenthood's services to speak out in its defense.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

The roundtable in Las Vegas, which streamed on Facebook Live, came on the heels of an angry town hall meeting with Senator Dean Heller of Nevada earlier in the week. During the town hall, Senator Heller made conflicting remarks under pressure about where he stood on federal funding for Planned Parenthood, saying he had "no problem" with funding for the organization shortly before casting a vote in favor of prohibiting Title X funds for health care centers that perform abortions.

No politician should tell a woman not to go to Planned Parenthood.

Heller cast his vote after President Trump signed a bill that repealed an Obama-era law designed to protect Title X funds to health-care providers that also provide abortion services. Title X funds help to provide pap smears, STI testing, and even prenatal care to low-income women who could otherwise not afford to pay for such services, such as the woman Roberts mentioned in her panel discussion.

“No politician should tell a woman not to go to Planned Parenthood,” patient Esperanza Cruz, who volunteers as a translator at Planned Parenthood in Las Vegas, said during the roundtable.

Since President Donald Trump’s inauguration, he and several Republican leaders have attempted to “defund” Planned Parenthood. (It is important to note that, while the term “defund” is used frequently in the media, it is actually a misnomer; there is no line item on the federal budget that goes straight to Planned Parenthood, and any efforts to defund the organization are aimed at getting patients to pay for their healthcare out of pocket.)

The organization has long been attacked by conservatives who view the organization as a provider of abortions, although according to Planned Parenthood's annual report, abortions comprise only 3% of its total services.

On Thursday, May 4, the House voted on a new version of AHCA, which passed with a vote of 217-213. While the bill still needs to go through the Senate to become law, the AHCA dramatically cuts Medicaid and effectively defunds Planned Parenthood without naming the organization specifically.

Since Planned Parenthood is one of the few affordable health care options for low-income women, the repeal of Title X funding, combined with the recent House vote on the AHCA bill, are being perceived by many as a direct attack on American women's health care.

“We were able to link her up with the proper care and specialist. If we hadn’t have dug deeper, I don’t really know what would have happened.”

“One in five women in this country rely on Planned Parenthood for care," Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said in a statement following the House vote on the AHCA bill. "They will not stay silent as politicians vote to take away their care and their rights. Women and men across the country will fight to protect access to Planned Parenthood and to defeat this bill."

One new amendment, the MacArthur-Meadows Amendment, would allow states to apply for waivers that limit coverage for people with pre-existing conditions. Notably, several “conditions” on the list of possible pre-existing conditions are specific to women, including C-sections, hysterectomies, and postpartum depression. The AHCA would also cut about $880 billion in Medicaid funding over 10 years, leaving budget gaps for the states to fill.

According to Halle, 60% of Planned Parenthood patients access care through federally funded public health programs, including Medicaid and Title X, which cover such services as STI testing, birth control, and cancer screenings. Moreover, Planned Parenthood is the source of health services for more than 36% of women receiving publicly funded family planning care.

In response to the administration's attacks on low-income women's healthcare, Richards has organized roundtables across the country for patients to tell their own stories.

At the Las Vegas roundtable, Planned Parenthood patient Esperanza Cruz shared her history as a patient at Planned Parenthood.

“I have received the best care. They don’t care what your status is. If you don’t speak the language, somebody will always help you," said Cruz, who now volunteers as a translator at Planned Parenthood for patients who don't speak English as a first language. She compared her experience at Planned Parenthood to that at another health center in Las Vegas, where she had to wait two months for an appointment with a doctor who was seeing nine patients at once.

“If Planned Parenthood hadn’t been there that day, I might not be here today, and I know I’m not the only woman who can say that.”

At another Planned Parenthood roundtable at the Kingston Planned Parenthood in the Hudson Valley of New York, high school English teacher and farmer Heather Kamin from Middleburg shared her own story of waking up with a pain in her abdomen.

“I called my primary care physician, and they couldn’t get me in for three weeks, so I did what I’ve always done when I need care. I called Planned Parenthood, and they set an appointment for later that day," she said.

It turned out that Kamin had had an ectopic pregnancy that had ruptured, and she was sent straight to an emergency room. By the time she reached an operating table, she had already hemorrhaged two pints of blood.

“If Planned Parenthood hadn’t been there that day, I might not be here today,” said Heather, “and I know I’m not the only woman who can say that.”