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Saturday, February 18, 2017 3:26 pm

Planned Parenthood to ramp up pressure

Brian Francisco | The Journal Gazette

Most people support Planned Parenthood, its leader says, but many in Congress are not hearing them. So Planned Parenthood and its backers are going to start talking louder.

That appears to be the gist of Planned Parenthood’s political strategy after setbacks during the first few weeks of President Donald Trump’s administration.

That strategy "is to continue to repeat what is at risk: 2.5 million patients come to Planned Parenthood every single year. The vast majority of them are coming for basic health care, basic preventative health care, and that is what’s at risk," Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a telephone interview Friday.

The nonprofit Planned Parent­hood, which provides family planning and reproductive health services – including abortion services at some of its clinics – "is overwhelmingly supported by people everywhere, including Indiana," Richards said.

Its advocates will try to ramp up public pressure on lawmakers in the next week as Congress takes a weeklong break and members return to their home states.

"You are definitely going to see in this next week of recess women all across the country, and men who support women’s health care access, at town halls, at congressional offices, because Congress needs to listen to the American people," Richards said.

Her comments came the day after the GOP-controlled U.S. House voted to revoke an Obama administration regulation requiring states to distribute federal funds for services related to contraception, fertility, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and breast and cervical cancer screening under the Title X Family Planning Program.

In late January, Trump reinstated the so-called Mexico City Policy, which prohibits federal funds from going to international nongovernmental organizations that promote or provide abortions. The House around the same time voted to make permanent the Hyde Amendment, which has been a yearly budget provision banning the use of public money for abortions with some exceptions.

Always looming are vows by congressional conservatives to withhold all public funds from Planned Parenthood, including Medicaid reimbursements for low-income patients, an effort championed by Vice President Mike Pence when he was an Indiana congressman in the 2000s.

"The climate both in the public policy arena and also in the arena of public opinion is more pro-life now than it’s ever been, and we have people in positions of authority who can take action in a way that we have not been able to enjoy in the past," Cathie Humbarger, executive director of Allen County Right to Life, which opposes abortion rights, said Friday in a telephone interview.

Humbarger challenged Planned Parenthood to spin off its abortion services into a for-profit entity and concentrate on other health care services if it wants to continue receiving government funds.

"They also have been touting the fact that their private donations have gone up significantly since the election. … That’s another reason why they don’t need our taxpayer dollars," Humbarger said. "There are many pro-life organizations that operate as (nonprofits) without taxpayer dollars, so perhaps Planned Parenthood should operate in the same arena that everybody else that has to raise funds does."

All seven Indiana Republicans in the House voted Thursday in favor of overturning the Obama administration’s regulation on Title X funds, and both of the state’s Democrats voted against it. The rule was finalized in mid-December and took effect two days before Trump was inaugurated on Jan. 20. 

"Under the rule, states that decline to send Title X funds to abortion clinics would lose their Title X funding completely," freshman Rep. Jim Banks, R-3rd, said in a floor speech Thursday. "If states make the decision they want to use their funding to affirm life, then they should be allowed to do so. This rule blatantly steps all over states’ rights and goes out of its way to favor abortion providers at the same time."

A week ago, in advance of a Fort Wayne rally calling for Congress to defund Planned Parenthood, Banks wrote on his Facebook Page that Planned Parenthood is "our nation’s largest abortion provider. I stand with the majority of Americans who believe their tax dollars should not go to this organization." Nearly 70 people posted comments, with nearly all of them either disputing his post, opposing his position or expressing support for Planned Parenthood.

The Journal Gazette estimated that about 200 people attended the defunding rally Feb. 11 outside Planned Parenthood’s Fort Wayne clinic, which does not provide abortion services. About 100 people showed up to support Planned Parenthood.

Richards is counting on public engagement to sway Congress and the Trump administration.

"We’ve had hundreds of thousands of young people who have now joined Planned Parenthood either as supporters with $10 contributions or as activists," she said Friday. "That’s to me what this is about: It’s about the grass roots of this country saying women have had access to reproductive health care for more than 40 years, they’ve had access to Planned Parenthood, we’ve been around 100 years, and women in this country are simply not going to go back."

Richards said this uptick in activism is happening because there is "so much going on in terms of threats to women’s health care." Attempts to deny access to Planned Parenthood services "is contrary to the idea that people should be able to choose whatever health care provider they want," she said.

Humbarger said she has noticed a change in Planned Parenthood’s approach.

"When the funding they got from taxpayers was secure, they had no reason to be aggressive in their tactics," she said. "But now that those dollars are being threatened, of course they’re speaking out and attempting to point to reasons why they should continue receiving those dollars, when in fact really there are none."

bfrancisco@jg.net