In 2011, I found myself uninsured, caring for my three children on my own. The only place I could turn to keep protecting myself was Planned Parenthood. For four years, they gave me an annual reassurance that I was healthy — that I wouldn’t go bankrupt from medical bills, that I could continue to be there for my children.
That’s what I told my Congressman, Jason Chaffetz, at a recent town hall in Salt Lake City. I was there along with more than 1,000 people inside and outside the auditorium to press him on protecting Utahns from the Donald Trump-Mike Pence agenda, which includes “defunding” Planned Parenthood. The Administration would block people who rely on federal health programs like Medicaid from going to Planned Parenthood for care.
Thursday night, Chaffetz parroted the lie that people like Speaker Paul Ryan have used to dismiss the concerns of the 2.5 million people who rely on Planned Parenthood for care: They can go “elsewhere.” Planned Parenthood provides nearly 700,000 cancer screenings every year in their 650 health centers. Women’s lives have been saved by those screenings.
I could not have gone elsewhere. Thousands of women like me cannot go elsewhere. Other clinics cannot possibly absorb Planned Parenthood patients. As the presidents of American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the National Partnership for Women wrote in Annals of Internal Medicine, “Proponents of Planned Parenthood defunding often assert that other providers will fill the gap. They are wrong.” Planned Parenthood has an outsized role in filling the need for affordable family planning. In 2010, while their health centers were only 10 percent of publicly funded clinics, they cared for 36 percent of patients who rely on public health programs.
Researchers on the Texas Policy Evaluation Project painted a terrifying picture of what happened when Texas blocked Planned Parenthood from the state’s family planning program — and what it could mean for women across the country. As the report’s authors wrote for the Washington Post, “After these cuts, 82 Texas family planning clinics — one out of every four in the state — closed or stopped providing family planning services… two-thirds of the clinics that closed were not even Planned Parenthood clinics.” They continued, “Organizations also were forced to begin charging uninsured women fees for birth control and other health services that had previously been free or lower cost… Some said they did not seek care at all because they were unable to pay the new fees.”
But Rep. Chaffetz is more concerned with a political agenda than protecting the health of the people of Utah.
I went to Planned Parenthood because I needed health care, not because I wanted to make some political statement. I’ve never stood in front of a room full of hundreds of people to reveal personal details about my health. But when politicians threaten the care that I relied on, I knew I had to tell my story.
Through February 26, U.S. Representatives and Senators are back at home in their districts, hearing from their constituents. They should have to answer to the one in five women in America who have been to Planned Parenthood in their lives to get cancer screenings, birth control, annual exams or safe and legal abortion.
They should have to answer to patients like me, who want to be sure that no matter what happens, Planned Parenthood will be there.