Earlier this week, the Senate voted on a measure that would have defunded Planned Parenthood. While the measure was defeated by a narrow margin, more political showdowns over Planned Parenthood funding are expected, even perhaps leading to a government shutdown.
While such efforts face fierce opposition from champions in Congress and the White House—it is sobering to consider what might happen if they were to be successful. Defunding Planned Parenthood would unquestionably destroy access to health care for millions, including hundreds of thousands of Latinas that rely on these clinics for sexual and reproductive health services, including critical preventive care.
The defunding vote in Congress comes on the heels of a manipulative and inflammatory campaign to spread misinformation about Planned Parenthood and demonize abortion providers and the women and communities who rely on them for care. The zealots behind the campaign have been relentless in attacking reproductive healthcare services, even going so far as to hack and disable websites that patients rely on for medical information.
But as much as Planned Parenthood appears to be the focus of these attacks, this isn’t ultimately about any one organization. These attacks are merely the latest salvo in a far-reaching, systematic, ideological crusade to deny personal reproductive health decision-making. Those behind this crusade, and their allies in Congress, want to deny legal abortion, contraception and other services to anyone and everyone. Falling short of that goal, these extremists will content themselves to undermine the health and autonomy of those who are already most marginalized: the young, the undocumented, and those struggling to make ends meet.
Attacks on abortion providers are nothing new. For decades, anti-choice extremists have used harassment, intimidation, misinformation, and even murder to terrorize abortion providers and try to prevent them from caring for their patients. This latest campaign of manipulative media and cyberattacks, coupled with calls to defund Planned Parenthood, is intended to scare, shame, and shut down health care providers that women and families rely on.
Despite the claims and political theatrics, the reality is that defunding Planned Parenthood would have little to no effect on actual abortion services. Since federal funds are currently withheld from being used for abortion, cutting funds to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers would really mean Congress taking away resources that are currently being used for birth control, STI screenings and prevention, cancer screenings, and other health care services. Those resources helped provide nearly 11 million medical services to nearly three million people in 2012, and helped to prevent approximately 515,000 unintended pregnancies. One fifth of these patients are Latina/o—who often seek care at Planned Parenthood clinics after being turned away elsewhere due to income, immigration status, or insurance.
While it’s true that people of all walks of life utilize Planned Parenthood health services, make no mistake about who truly depends on this care. Seventy-nine percent of Planned Parenthood clients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. It’s not surprising, then, that Latinas — one in three of whom lives in poverty — would be especially harmed by a withdrawal of federal funds.
We already know what would happen. We need only look at Texas. In 2012, the Texas state legislature defunded Planned Parenthood—a longtime provider of quality care in the region—with shocking effects. The following year, Texas met only 13 percent of the need for publicly funded contraception—less than half of national totals for the same year. A human rights report, Nuestro Texas, documented the aftermath: one woman reported living for years with lumps in her breast and no way to know if they were cancerous; another woman reported sharing her birth control prescription with her sister, since she couldn’t afford a whole pill pack. Still other women reported living with debilitating pain and being forced to discontinue contraception use altogether, resulting in unwanted pregnancies.
Latinas—who are more likely to be low-income, of reproductive age, and to experience unintended pregnancy—bear the brunt of defunding in Texas and would be immeasurably harmed if Congress followed Texas’ bad example. Latinas are among the most likely to suffer and die of cervical cancer, an almost entirely preventable and highly treatable disease, for the simple reason that we can’t get preventive care.
The extremists behind these proposals unquestionably want to ban abortion—they will do anything to reach that goal. But the real agenda is much broader and would cut off all reproductive health care, especially for those with limited resources.
This is about our health, our lives, and our decisions. Whether that decision is to end a pregnancy, access a Pap smear, know one’s HIV status, or simply talk to someone about sexual health. This is much bigger than Planned Parenthood.
So, yes, as the hashtag says, stand with Planned Parenthood. But more than that, stand with the millions of people in this country whose futures may hang in the balance. Because this is about all of us.
Jessica González-Rojas is the executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health.