Planned Parenthood of Nassau County’s staff and supporters said that they are concerned that the Republican-majority chambers of Congress will soon move to strip health centers affiliated with the organization of all federal funding.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, told reporters on Jan. 5 that efforts to defund the organization “would be in our reconciliation bill,” referring to a special type of legislation that would need only a simple Senate majority to pass, according to The Washington Post. The bill, which National Public Radio reports is designed to repeal portions of the Affordable Care Act, is expected to pass in Congress as soon as next month. Republicans also anticipate that President-elect Donald Trump will sign the legislation.
Planned Parenthood operates three health centers in Nassau County, in Hempstead, Massapequa and Glen Cove. JoAnn Smith, PPNC’s president and CEO, explained that, in 2016, 45 percent of the affiliates’ $8 million budget came from government sources.
According to Smith, the government does not directly fund Planned Parenthood; rather, affiliates of the organization receive payments from federal funds. She explained that PPNC and other centers across the country receive Medicaid reimbursement for certain services offered in their health centers — “That is what is on the chopping block now,” she noted, referring to the reconciliation bill. They also receive money through Title X, a federal grant program for family planning services.
U.S. Rep. Peter King, a Republican from Seaford, said that he supports defunding Planned Parenthood because he doesn’t believe that federal dollars “should be used for abortions.” But Smith said that this is a major misconception because, since 1976, the Hyde Amendment has blocked federal Medicaid funding for abortion services.
“What would be defunded?” Smith asked rhetorically. “All of the preventive care that we provide that is essential and allows women to determine the size and spacing of their families. Our patients who are Medicaid recipients will no longer have access to pap tests, cancer screenings, STD screenings and well woman exams. That’s what’s going to happen.”
Smith said that about 45 percent of PPNC’s $8 million 2016 budget came from state and federal government sources. Medicaid reimbursement made up about $2 million, she added.
Last year, approximately 5,000 people with Medicaid coverage were cared for at PPNC health centers, Smith said. The reconciliation bill would most immediately impact these lower-income residents, she added.
“They would not be able to call up one morning and come in that afternoon and get their birth control,” Smith said. “They might find a lump and not be able to get an appointment for a breast exam elsewhere. We do lifesaving work, and this is going to have an effect on a lot of people.”
Rep. Kathleen Rice, a Democrat from Garden City who represents portions of Wantagh, said she knows that thousands of her constituents and residents of Nassau County go to Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings, contraception and counseling, among other services. Thousands more benefit from PPNC’s educational programs that “empower people with the information they need to make smart, safe choices,” she added. That’s why she does not support efforts to strip Planned Parenthood of federal funds and, with Rep. Tom Suozzi, held a rally in Westbury on Jan. 15 to call on Republicans in Congress to “save critical health care programs” rather than repeal the ACA, privatize Medicare, cut Medicaid and de-fund Planned Parenthood.
“For women of all ages — and men, for that matter — it means so much to know that there is somewhere you can go in your own community to get professional care and unbiased information and advice about reproductive health and health in general,” Rice said. “It’s a comfort to know that Planned Parenthood is there if and when you need them, and when you do need them, they provide a lifeline that often no one else can provide … That will no longer be the case if Republicans defund Planned Parenthood, and it’s not as if there’s anyone else waiting to fill in the gap.”
Smith described Rice and Suozzi as champions of the values that PPNC holds dear, and said that she would continue to work with them and legislators across the state to advocate against defunding measures. While the threat of defunding has caused some anxiety among staff and supporters, she said, PPNC continues to open its doors to residents and to offer new services, including a teen clinic.
PPNC has launched a public awareness campaign that’s focused on the value the services have to public health, Smith explained. She said that the organization would also assess how they can ramp up public fundraising efforts in the coming months.
“We are moving forward because we have had many, many challenges,” she said. “There is no doubt that this is the greatest one that we have ever faced.”
Rice said that she is going to organize and mobilize with PPNC to “make it clear how people will be affected if Republicans strip funding from Planned Parenthood,” she said. “And as more and more reasonable people from across the political spectrum learn what those consequences will be, I think Republicans will have to think twice before moving forward — or else they’ll be held accountable on Election Day.”
Rice and Smith urged Nassau County residents who are concerned about the possibility of a Planned Parenthood defunding to call their representatives and senators and urge their relatives in other parts of the country to do the same. PPNC will also be holding volunteer and fundraising events, including one called “I Stand with Planned Parenthood” at Thyme Restaurant, in Roslyn, on Jan. 23 at 1 p.m.