Even Donald Trump knows that “millions of women are helped by Planned Parenthood.” Yet Trump has vowed to defund the women’s health organization nationwide, buoyed by the widespread false claim that taxpayer dollars through Medicaid are going toward the group’s abortion services.
If President Trump wants to know the impact that defunding Planned Parenthood would have on millions of Americans, he only has to turn to Vice President Mike Pence, who saw the damaging consequences of his own effort to defund the health care provider in Indiana.
As would be the case nationally, residents of Indiana’s underserved communities suffered the most when the state’s GOP targeted its Planned Parenthood clinics. When Indiana Republicans imposed health cuts that forced Planned Parenthood to close five of its clinics in the state, none of which offered abortion services, they shut down some of the few places where many people could access services like HIV testing. The effect was disastrous. The Planned Parenthood clinic in rural Scott County, for example, was the county’s only HIV testing center. After its closure, HIV cases climbed dramatically as the county’s drug epidemic escalated. Only after intense public pressure — and prayer — did Pence reluctantly approve a needle-exchange program to help stem the rise in HIV in his state.
Trump can also ask his new Cabinet member Rick Perry, the former Texas governor, about his state's war on women’s health. Texas saw a rise in pregnancy-related deaths and health complications after state Republicans succeeded in closing over 80 family planning clinics, including many operated by Planned Parenthood, through steep health care cuts. Counties affected by the closures witnessed a rise in unplanned pregnancies.
Another Texas law, later found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, shut down many abortion clinics across the state. Rather than end abortion, it forced women to turn to less safe options, such as self-induced abortions, including the use of drugs purchased in Mexico. (President Trump warned ominously during his presidential campaign that women might have to go to “illegal places” if he succeeds in ending legal abortion).
One study of family planning cuts in Texas and Wisconsin, the latter enacted by “pro-life” Gov. Scott Walker, found that women’s health and family planning clinic closures had a negative impact on preventative health care. The clinic closures in the two states led to decreases in women receiving clinical breast exams, mammograms, and Pap tests, with larger than average declines among women with only a high school diploma or less.
In Louisiana, Republicans likewise went after the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics even though they didn’t offer abortion services, recommending instead that women look to dentists, dermatologists, and audiologists for family planning services.
One religious right group has even suggested that, in lieu of Planned Parenthood, women try to get health care at public schools and nursing homes.
Planned Parenthood reports that of the people who use its services, “79 percent had incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level,” and many are already facing severe obstacles to health care access. Women of color, low-income women, and women living in rural areas would bear the brunt of the proposed defunding of Planned Parenthood; too many would be left with nowhere else to turn. A longtime supporter of the LGBTQ community, Planned Parenthood has also been a place that many queer women and men rely on.
The women who would lose access to Planned Parenthood would face even more hurdles if Republicans successfully repeal the Affordable Care Act, which could cause millions to lose their health insurance and hospitals to close, and enact severe cuts to Medicare and Medicaid, which could make it even harder for people to find alternatives to Planned Parenthood.
Trump said that, as president, he “would be the best for women” and “the best for women’s health issues.” Instead, he’s starting out his presidency by promising to target the health care of those who already have the fewest options.