West Virginia’s only Planned Parenthood clinic does not perform abortions, despite serving more than 960 patients last year and offering preventive services ranging from contraceptives to reproductive life planning.
Planned Parenthood has come under fire nationally in recent weeks, after undercover videos surfaced showing Planned Parenthood representatives talking about the sale and purchase of fetal tissue. The videos, published by an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress, sparked a move in the U.S. Congress to defund Planned Parenthood, but a procedural vote on the issue failed to pass the Senate floor Monday.
More than 40 percent of Planned Parenthood’s funding comes from federal and state funds; federal funds have not been able to be used to provide abortion services since 1976, after the passage of the Hyde Amendment, a legislative provision barring the use of most federal funds to pay for the procedure unless the pregnancy is the result of incest or rape, or to save the life of the mother. Planned Parenthood’s federal funding instead must go toward other services, such as STI screenings, mammograms, pregnancy testing and counseling services.
In unedited versions of the videos, the Planned Parenthood representatives, who were led to believe they were speaking to a group interested in procuring fetal tissue for medical research, note that Planned Parenthood does not profit from the sale of fetal tissue. Congress launched an investigation into Planned Parenthood’s business practices on July 15 but has yet to release any findings.
The West Virginia clinic, located in Vienna, just outside Parkersburg, does not provide abortions. More than 70 percent of its patients were uninsured in 2014, and the Vienna clinic serves roughly three percent of the state’s eligible population.
“The women, men, and teens we serve don’t come to us to make a political statement, and the care we provide our patients isn’t about politics — it’s about their well-being,” read a statement from Jenny Black, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, which operates 15 health centers across North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and south-central Virginia. “In the face of these political attacks, we remain focused on ensuring our patients are able to access the care they need in a safe and caring environment.”
Tisha Reed, deputy director of WV FREE, the state’s largest women’s healthcare advocacy organization, said a loss in federal funding to Planned Parenthood would likely result in the closure of many of the organization’s clinics — clinics that would not be easily replaced, with patients who would be forced to seek care elsewhere.
One solution discussed on the Senate floor involved giving Planned Parenthood’s grant funding for reproductive health services to Community Health Centers, safety net providers that offer primary care services to the uninsured and underinsured.
“Part of the discussions on the Senate floor were these recommendations that they just give the money to community health centers,” Reed said. “The Title X grant program is a competitive grant, so community health centers have either not been interested, or were not able to offer plans as comprehensive as those offered by the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources or Planned Parenthood. Something else that is just incredible to me is that they were offering up giving funding to these CHCs, but it didn’t appear they had spoken to the CHCs to see if the capacity was there.”
Reed, the former Title X director for West Virginia, said Title X is the only federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services. It has been threatened by legislative intervention in the past, and Reed said WV FREE is concerned about attacks centered on providers, programs and laws that uphold women’s healthcare as a right.
“WV FREE is concerned about past and current attacks on Title X, because West Virginia’s network is incredibly important to our young men and women who need confidential services, who need STI treatment and testing, who need a way to plan their reproductive health, and who need to be able to start having those conversations about their reproductive life because, as we all know, a planned baby tends to have a better outcome than an unplanned one,” Reed said.
The Vienna clinic’s services run the gamut from family planning services to colorectal cancer screenings and general check ups, and often serve as the only doctor’s visit “young invincibles” might have all year, Reed said.
“It’s not very well hidden that their ultimate agenda is to remove those options for women altogether,” she said. “What’s most concerning is that it seems like, if their concern was fetal tissue donation, then they would have written a bill that targeted that practice. That’s not what they chose to do; they chose to target Planned Parenthood, and if they believe PP is guilty of some sort of criminal activity, then there are laws in place, and an investigation can occur. From the videos, it doesn’t appear any laws have been broken. Abortion isn’t something people often want to talk about. It’s a difficult decision, and sometimes a painful one, but it’s something we at WV FREE support — a woman’s right to make the best decision for herself.”
Reach Lydia Nuzum at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-5189 or follow @lydianuzum on Twitter.