After weeks of accusations, rebuttals and, most recently, a vote by the U.S. House of Representatives to defund the women’s health organization, Planned Parenthood is still in the hot seat, thanks to a series of heavily redacted hidden-camera videos from anti-abortion the Center for Medical Progress that show Planned Parenthood executives and affiliates candidly discussing harvesting fetal tissue from abortion procedures. More specifically, the practice of selling aborted fetal tissue in the service of medical research — something that was declared legal in 1975 and has persisted with Planned Parenthood clinics and other organizations that provide abortions in the U.S. ever since, according to the American Society for Cell Biology.
The 10 videos the Center for Medical Progress has released since July are striking, but as of today, none of Planned Parenthood’s abortion practices have been declared illegal, despite an ongoing federal investigation and a handful of state investigations into its practices.
Arguments have been made against the legitimacy of the videos, the morality of fetal tissue donation and research, and the role of Planned Parenthood itself in our nation’s healthcare system. I’m going to skip all of those discussions, as they’re better served by other sources, and get to what I think is most important to recognize in this issue in terms of its effects in West Virginia. While abortion is perfectly legal, only 3 percent of what PP does involves abortive services, and of course, almost none of the money used for abortions comes from the federal government.
(Note: it’s important to note that while PP does provide few abortions when compared to its other services, many of those services are far less expensive than an abortion, which skews the organization’s budget quite a bit. Look here for a more extensive explanation of that.)
The national issue of PP funding became a state one this week, when Speaker of the House of Delegates Tim Armstead penned a letter to Karen Bowling, essentially asking her if it would be feasible to “divert funding” from West Virginia’s only PP clinic, located in Vienna.
Tim Armstead’s letter, in its entirety, to DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling, dated Sept. 21:
Bowling has not yet responded to Armstead, although she is working to compile the information Armstead requested, according to the DHHR.
In an article in today’s Gazette-Mail, capitol reporter Phil Kabler writes that, somewhat obviously, the clinic in question does not receive $800,000 per year. Kabler writes that “records with the state Auditor’s Office show that, since Aug. 1, 2014, the DHHR’s Division of Health has made 111 payments to the Planned Parenthood facility totaling $78,648. That does not appear to include any payments by Medicaid for individuals’ office visits to the clinic.” House of Delegates spokesman Jared Hunt told Kabler the $800,000 figure “came from a legislative staff analysis of the budget documents for the DHHR’s Family Planning Program, which showed $803,000 in state funds and $2.4 million in federal funds provided for Planned Parenthood of West Virginia.” Bowling later issued a statement correcting that, explaining that the $803,000 was used “to purchase bulk supplies for approximately 150 providers across the state who participate in family planning services.”
As noted in the Speaker’s letter, the Vienna clinic does not perform any abortions. STD testing? Yes. Breast exams? Of course. Armstead is asking the DHHR to take funding away from a small clinic and give the money it receives for services — services that do not include the service he protests — and give it to another clinic that would perform all of those services and consequently absorb the nearly 1,000 unduplicated patients the clinic sees each year. Nevermind whether it’s necessary or kosher to do something like that in the case of this particular clinic — I’m still waiting to hear if it’s possible without an interruption in services. Tisha Reed, deputy director of WV FREE, the state’s largest women’s health advocacy group, thinks not:
“Removing Title X funding from the Planned Parenthood site does nothing to address (Armstead’s) concern regarding the practice of fetal tissue donation, but would definitely affect access to women’s healthcare, which he states he does not wish to do,” she says. “The only certain outcome would be to remove a vital provider of reproductive healthcare services for men and women. If this clinic were to be defunded, only one site would remain in Wood County for Title X Family Planning services such as contraception and cervical and breast cancer screening-the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department. This location is only staffed with an advanced practice nurse or specialized women’s health care physician one day per week — Tuesday — and is unable to absorb the demand that exists. This means that visits are by appointment only and problem situations either have to wait for an appointment or visit an emergency-care facility. Removing funding would cause a disparity of care for many men and women in Wood County who are not able to confine their need to 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays only.”