This month, Speaker Paul Ryan and Congressman Greg Walden made their plans official. They want to rip away health care from thousands of Oregonians by repealing the Affordable Care Act, increasing costs while dismantling coverage critical to women’s health, essentially returning to a time when being a woman was a pre-existing condition, and they want to block Medicaid patients from accessing basic health care at Planned Parenthood.
This will have a harmful impact on people here in Oregon. As a health care provider in the Rogue Valley, Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon knows first-hand that our health centers are an irreplaceable resource for women in our community, providing lifesaving breast cancer screenings, birth control and STI tests.
That’s why politicians like Greg Walden need to hear from us about why we’re not standing for these attacks on Oregon women’s access to health care. His district is home to four Planned Parenthood health centers — Medford, Grants Pass, Ashland and Bend — that provide almost 20,000 patient visits every year.
Planned Parenthood is part of the fabric of communities across the country, serving 2.5 million people each year. We are the experts on sexual and reproductive health and education. Women, men and young people have been turning to our doctors and clinicians for 100 years. In fact, an estimated 1 in 5 women in the United States will rely on Planned Parenthood in her lifetime.
Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon works hard to ensure that women and families are always able to access affordable, high-quality health care in a safe and caring environment. More than six in 10 women who obtained care at a publicly funded center providing contraceptive services between 2006 and 2010 considered Planned Parenthood their usual source of medical care. Many of them would have nowhere else to go if Planned Parenthood was “defunded.”
Those hurt the most would be those struggling to get by, and those who already face barriers to accessing health care — especially people who live in rural areas, people of color and people with low to moderate incomes. More than half of Planned Parenthood providers are in under-served areas. In Jackson and Josephine counties, Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon serves 50 percent or more of the low-income women who get birth control through publicly funded clinics.
The claims made by politicians that other health care providers could serve Planned Parenthood patients are false. The idea that other providers could absorb our patients has been resoundingly dismissed by experts. When lawmakers in Louisiana, Ohio and Florida tried to block access to Planned Parenthood in the past, they suggested women could go to “alternative” providers for reproductive health care — including dentists, food banks, retirement homes, elementary schools, rehab centers and even ear, nose and throat specialists. In fact, the head of the American Public Health Association has called the idea “ludicrous.”
Meanwhile, Donald Trump has made an equally absurd proposal that Planned Parenthood stop providing safe, legal abortion services. This is the same demand opponents of women’s health have been pushing for decades, as a part of their long-standing effort to end women’s access to the full range of reproductive health care. Let’s be clear: No federal funding goes toward abortion in the first place, except in rare circumstances. It is unbelievable that in 2017 we are having a debate in this country about holding birth control and cancer screenings hostage to an extreme agenda to end women’s access to abortion — which 70 percent of Americans support.
The political threats on Planned Parenthood are very real. The bill being considered would only serve to deny Medicaid patients in Oregon — a low-income population that already struggles to afford and access care — to see their provider at Planned Parenthood health centers. This is cruel and discriminatory, and it defies decades of medical and public health expertise on the benefits of giving patients access to the provider of their choice for reproductive health care services.
Our leaders in Congress have the responsibility to keep Americans safe and healthy. Without a doubt, cutting access for Planned Parenthood patients on Medicaid will put people’s lives at risk. Our elected leaders must reject any attempt to cut off millions of women from their trusted, irreplaceable health care provider and access to lifesaving preventive care.
We are committed to ensuring Oregonians have access to the reproductive health care they deserve — no matter their ZIP code, income, race, immigration status, sexual orientation or gender identity. No matter what.
— Lisa A. Gardner is the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon. Sky Loos is the Rogue Valley director of external afairs for Planned Parenthood of Southwestern Oregon. PPSO operates three health centers in the Rogue Valley and provides education and youth engagement programs throughout the valley.