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Planned Parenthood donations a double-edged sword

INDIANAPOLIS — The donations that have been streaming into Planned Parenthood since a new Indiana law cut much public funding to the organization have allowed Planned Parenthood to continue serving low-income women seeking breast exams and Pap tests — at least for now. But they may be hurting the organization, too, as they've bolstered conservatives' arguments that the abortion provider didn't need taxpayer cash in the first place.

"The more private money that Planned Parenthood receives, the more it proves that it doesn't need public funds," said Mike Fichter, president of Indiana Right to Life. "Instead of complaining about not receiving government money, they have to go out and raise the money like other organizations."

State Sen. Scott Schneider, an Indianapolis Republican who sponsored the measure to defund Planned Parenthood, said the amount of donations coming in raises a legitimate question of why taxpayer money was ever sent to the organization.

"What makes them different than any other not-for-profit?" Schneider said. "There's no reason why they can't have a capital campaign or some sort of private campaign to raise funds."

Betty Cockrum, president of Planned Parenthood of Indiana, said the group deserves public funding because there is a public interest in providing affordable birth control that prevents unwanted pregnancies and abortions, and a public value to the health services the group provides. While Cockrum said the donations coming in are heartwarming, they won't cover the ongoing costs of treating Medicaid patients.

"It really is a one-time thing and a temporary fix," she said.

Planned Parenthood of Indiana has raised more than $100,000 in donations since the last week of the legislative session. It's using the money to help pay for breast exams, Pap tests and other health treatments for 9,300 Medicaid patients affected by the measure signed into law by Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels.

Most of the donations have come from outside Indiana. People from 46 states and multiple countries have contributed to the organization as news of Indiana's law spread, Cockrum said.

"They are responding nationally because they are angry," she said of the group's backers. "They understand what Planned Parenthood really does."

But Cockrum expects the flow of checks to die down soon as media coverage fades and as other states push similar laws, pulling donations elsewhere. The contributions made so far will cover Medicaid patients until at least June 15. If more money comes in, Planned Parenthood may extend that coverage.

On June 6, a federal judge will hold a hearing on Planned Parenthood's request for an injunction blocking the state law, and the judge has said she'll rule on the matter by July 1. Cockrum hopes the organization can pull in enough money to cover patients until a ruling on the law.

But she said it's not realistic to expect charity to cover patients in the long run.

"This cannot be sustained," she said.