In a statement presidential candidate Jeb Bush made recently, (and later redacted), he said, “The next president should defund Planned Parenthood.” He also went on to say, “I’m not sure we need a half-billion dollars for women’s health issues.” Mr. Bush’s definition of women’s health falls into the ‘good old boys’ mentality solely focused on reproduction. Sadly, he is not alone.
He further went on to equate women’s health with abortion, failing to see the broader needs of women, thus further downplaying the role Planned Parenthood plays in helping women. Other candidates such as Huckabee, Cruz and Fiorina, who vigorously support defunding of Planned Parenthood, raised similar opinions in the recent Republican debates. Governors Christie, Bush and Kasich all proclaimed their prior actions to defund the agency in their respective states. Senator Cruz, in a clear political grandstand, is threatening to close down the government unless Planned Parenthood is defunded. The actions of many politicians, although swaddled in moral and religious justification, are clearly motivated to gain favor of a large segment of the American population who still have not come to terms with a woman’s right to manage her reproductive health.
Many of our leaders experience tunnel vision when it comes to the definition of women’s health. Bush again mistakenly targets Planned Parenthood when he states, “Abortion should not be funded by the government.” Huckabee has taken an extremist anti-abortion view stating recently that a 10-year-old child who was raped by her stepfather should be denied access to an abortion. A large number of our elected politicians, both Republican and Democrat, support the concept of not using federal funding for abortion services. They should all be fully aware of the Hyde Amendment, which already prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion, except in cases of incest or rape. Thus, whatever federal assistance Planned Parenthood receives currently does not cover abortion services.
In Bush’s amended statement designed to clarify his original statements on funding for Planned Parenthood he said that he was referring to the $500 million in funding that goes to an organization that “…was callously participating in the unthinkable practice of selling fetal organs.” He was referring to a heavily edited video of Planned Parenthood doctors discussing the donation of fetal tissue for scientific research to develop treatments for a variety of clinical conditions. The problem with his statements is that they focus on only one aspect of the services Planned Parenthood provides and ignore many others.
Politicians feel free to target Planned Parenthood solely for political gain with minimal concern for the women they affect. Why is women’s health always reduced to just reproductive conditions? Unfortunately, by the nature of its edict, Planned Parenthood addresses many of the reproductive and gynecological needs of women and doing so limits the definition of women’s health. This narrow definition of women’s healthcare serves to ignore the broader needs of women. A variety of medical conditions such as endometriosis, breast cancer, mastalgia are exclusive female disorders which have a significant impact on women, but others such as depression, urinary incontinence and various autoimmune diseases disproportionately affect women. Where are these needs being addressed?
Currently, 79% of Planned Parenthood clients are at or below the poverty level. In 2012 alone, they provided services for 3 million people. So beyond abortion, what do these services actually entail?
STD testing and treatment accounts for 41 percent of the PPH services, including testing for HIV. Without affordable, accessible clinics like this, many of these diseases would go untreated, spread and potentially take lives.
Affordable contraception is the next biggest service that PPH provides, accounting for 34 percent of their total services. This includes birth control, emergency contraception and vasectomies – it does not include abortions. Sadly, getting birth control still isn’t easy, especially if you’re a teen. Without affordable contraception, unplanned pregnancies and STDs would become an even bigger issue than it already is.
Cancer Screening and Prevention
PPH offers this: Cancer screening and prevention equals 10 percent of their total services. That includes everything from PAP tests to breast care to colposcopy procedures to LOOP/LEEP procedures. These services get expensive fast if you don’t have decent health insurance even with Obamacare.
The remaining 1 percent of other services that PPH Services provides includes areas such as adoption referrals, urinary tract infection treatments and other family practice services. Additional funding for PPH or other similar organizations would allow for expansion of these non-reproductive services to better meet the needs of women.
Now that you know the extent of services that are provided by Planned Parenthood, you understand why broad statements such as those made by ill-informed politicians concerning defunding women’s healthcare can be seriously detrimental. Women’s health goes well beyond contraception and planning to become a parent. We need to enlarge the definition based on what we know of women’s diseases and disorders. Let’s imagine for a moment changing the name and focus of Planned Parenthood to WHC Services and then examine the breath of services it would provide beyond reproduction. Expansion into women specific conditions such as endometriosis and mastalgia would be possible through adequate funding. Areas that are not thought of as typically women’s diseases but have a higher prevalence in women such as metabolic diseases like diabetes, depression, and services for those living with autoimmune diseases could also be addressed.
It is critical that we change the nature of the conversation and clarify what constitutes services for women and women’s health. Without funding to keep these services affordable and accessible, as well as expand their range,
The dictionary defines a woman as “a female adult” and a female as “ denoting the sex that can bear offspring or produce eggs”. It is time that we stop using the terms as if they are interchangeable!