Planned Parenthood Weighs In on the Politics of Women's Health Care

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, discussed the work her organization does and the recent Congressional battle over the group's funding.

Planned Parenthood has been on the budget chopping block and even though the Republican effort to de-fund the women's health provider mostly failed this time, it has been — and remains — a hot button issue in Congress. Already, it's illegal to use federal funds to provide abortion services so Planned Parenthood provides these services through other financial means, but the group is still seen mainly seen as an abortion provider by many conservatives.

A moral issue?

Planned Parenthood's president, Cecile Richards said abortion may be a moral issue on a small scale, but on a big scale, it's about choice.

Abortion is one of those issues that is morally complex for every individual but I think at the end of the day, where American people are on this is that it's such a personal decision. And, even in very conservative states, the state of South Dakota is a good example, where there was an attempt to completely ban all abortions...the voters rejected that kind of ballot initiative because they believed at the end of the day that these kinds of difficult decisions are best made by women and their doctors and their family members.

Richards said Planned Parenthood has polled Americans about what concerns them most about reproductive health care those polls show they're much more concerned about teen pregnancy and unintended pregnancy and want women to have access to information that will bring the abortion rate down.

Losing funding is losing big

Planned Parenthood acts like any other health care service or hospital, according to Richards, but it can also reach people that other groups don't reach. Of the organization's 800 centers, 72 percent of them are either in rural areas or in medically under served communities, she said. And in response to a recent comment by Fox News pundits that women should just get their pap smear at Walgreens (something the pharmacy chain doesn't offer), she said there must be some confusion about how women actually obtain their health care.

We offer services to very low income and working people without insurance just like hospitals do...And one of the things that came up in this whole conversation in Congress is we actually are the most affordable provider of family planning and a lot of these services and that's why in many states we are the provider of family planning because we are able see many many more folks at an affordable price and provide very high quality so, it's really a question of whether we really believe folks in this country should have access to affordable and high quality preventive care.

The funds that Planned Parenthood receives from the government are specifically for services like cancer screening, birth control and for STD treatment and testing, Richards said, and with this money and privately raised funds, they still aren't able to service enough people that need them, let alone sustaining any cuts from the Fed.

The real tragedy in this country to me is that federal funds for those services...are so low that we actually, far from being fungible, we actually have to go and raise private dollars to supplement the services to make sure that we can see every woman that needs services...We see three million patients every year, we're the largest family planning provider in the country, and yet in the U.S. we have the highest unintended pregnancy rate out of any western country because there are still millions more women who need affordable birth control that can't get it.

States take matters into their own hands

Richards said many bills are already in the works on the state level to either ban Planned Parenthood from providing services in their states or make it difficult for women to access their services, and Planned Parenthood is concerned about it.

There are, I think more than 900 bills that were filed during this legislative session and a lot of them are right at this sort of inflection point here of decision by their state legislatures. Unfortunately with a real sweep last November, these are much more extreme legislatures in terms of being against women's health care access. We are working in several states to try to ensure that women don't lose access to health care services but there are many bad bills pending and some have already been signed.

Some states have pushed for proposals like requiring fetal ultra sounds before a woman can get an abortion. Richards said proposals like these do not help women get better care.

We counsel women and young people about questions that, quite frankly, a lot of doctors won't talk to them about...How do we help you plan your family and get the information you need that's not bias, that gives you everything you need to make healthy decision for you and your family? And if we could do more of that in this country and take the politics out of women's health care, we'd have a healthier country, we'd have healthier women and healthier families.