Planned Parenthood volunteers may have helped defeat the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, but a spokesman for the organization's local affiliate said the fight for reproductive health services isn't over.
"We're in the middle of the most intense political attack on women's health in a generation," said Paul Dillon, public affairs director for Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho.
Speaking to about two dozen people at a Palouse ProActive event in Pullman on Wednesday evening, Dillon noted that the Washington-Idaho affiliate provided a wide variety of health services to nearly 31,000 patients in 2016.
Those services include annual exams, birth control, pregnancy testing, breast and cervical cancer screening, vasectomies and abortion services. The organization receives federal Medicaid funding for many of these services, the same as any other health care provider. Almost two-thirds of its patients are at or below the federal poverty level.
"We are a key safety net provider (of health services)," Dillon said. "We never turn away anyone, and we never use collection agencies."
Planned Parenthood has been a lightning rod organization for much of its 101-year history, ever since it opened the first birth control clinic in the United States. However, the political animosity ramped up exponentially in 2015 after undercover videos were released purporting to show Planned Parenthood executives negotiating the sale of fetal tissue for use in medical research.
The videos sparked hundreds of protests nationwide, including at least two locally. The Planned Parenthood clinic in Pullman was severely damaged in an arson fire during that same time period.
Investigators determined that the videos were altered, and multiple state probes turned up no evidence of such activity on the part of Planned Parenthood.
Regardless, defunding the organization - making it ineligible for federal Medicaid reimbursements - has since become a top priority for conservative Republicans in Congress, though abortion accounts for less than 3 percent of its patient services.
Dillon said it's unclear whether lawmakers can legally block funding for a single Medicaid provider. Nevertheless, defunding language was included in all three Obamacare repeal bills that Congress addressed earlier this year. The House version never came up for a vote in the Senate, while Planned Parenthood helped defeat two Senate bills.
"Nationwide over the last nine months, we had 200,000 volunteers involved and held 2,400 events," Dillon said. "We made over 250,000 phone calls (to key senators), and we won. That shows just how unpopular these bills were."
The fight isn't over, though, as Congress continues to look for ways to block funding for the organization.
Should they succeed, Dillon said, Planned Parenthood's Washington-Idaho affiliate would lose about $2.3 million in federal funds just in Washington's 5th Congressional District. That would have a "devastating" effect on the local affiliate, and potentially result in thousands of unplanned pregnancies due to the loss of reproductive services.
"This is a basic, core economic issue," he said. "When women can plan their pregnancies, they have greater opportunity for education and a career, and are less likely to end up on government programs."
Part of the purpose of his Palouse ProActive talk was to encourage people to get involved and volunteer. He'd also like to create a "rapid response" group that can be called on when needed to pressure lawmakers.
"We're facing the fight of the century," Dillon said.
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