Indiana Planned Parenthood battle highlights what DeGette, Pelosi see as war on family planning

Indiana Republican lawmakers stripped funding from Planned Parenthood last month and in doing so made contraception unaffordable for thousands of Medicaid patients. The battle over the law in Indiana is another high-profile example of the way Republicans, in seeking to pass sweeping anti-abortion bills, have unveiled a longstanding antipathy among a growing bloc of Republican lawmakers to the kind of basic family planning that the vast majority Americans have come to embrace instinctively as a modern-world human right, according to Colorado Congresswoman Diana DeGette and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

“People now know what we’ve been trying to tell them for years and in my case for decades,” Pelosi told the Colorado Independent earlier this spring. “People can see it. The actions and the legislation they’re pushing make it very clear that these [Republicans] are against family planning and contraception. For years, we have not been able to get a vote on the floor [of the House] for even benign issues of women’s health because [Republicans] tie them all to the abortion issue.

“They have taken this to such an extreme place that it has awakened women in America and people who care about women’s health,” she said.

U.S. District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt is reviewing the Indiana law and is expected to rule by the end of the month. The intent, ostensibly, was to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood as the “leader in the abortion industry,” as proponents of the law have put it. Yet federal statutes already bar public funding from paying for abortions, including at Planned Prenthood, and it is illegal to prevent Medicaid patients from using their coverage to receive the non-abortion services and drugs, such as pap smears, pre-natal care, cancer screenings and birth control pills, that Planned Parenthood is also a leader in providing. Medicaid administrators have sent a letter to Indiana saying as much and the Justice Department has similarly informed Judge Pratt.

Since the law passed last month, Planned Parenthood has been paying for women on Medicaid in Indiana to receive care but strapped clinics are likely to shut down soon.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels told Medicaid patients that health services are available at other clinics. As media outlets in the state have reported, however, clinics designed to treat poor women will be few and far between once Planned Parenthood is taken out of the picture.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow recently reviewed the new Indiana law and talked with Betty Cockrum, president of Planned Parenthood of Indiana.

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DeGette told the Colorado Independent that the Republican position, adopted widely in the states and in the capital, is untenable, that Americans don’t support it and that it has gridlocked women’s health issues in Congress.

DeGette heads the congressional pro-choice caucus and has been leading the defense against anti-abortion legislation this year.

“People come up to me in church,” she said. “They ask me if it’s really true that Republicans were going to shut down the government over funding for family planning.

“‘Yeah they would have,’ I said.”

It hasn’t always been this way. DeGette said extreme social conservatives have backed GOP lawmakers into a corner.

“What the far right does is they say everything is about abortion. If you’re cutting Planned Parenthood, pap smears, breast cancer screenings, that’s all related to cutting abortion.”

Even though that messaging strategy has been very successful, DeGette believes it will ultimately fail.

“Average American women, they might think Well, I’ll never need an abortion, but if you say to them ‘These lawmakers want to shut down Planned Parenthood,’ then women say, ‘Wooah. I just went there for my annual exam. I don’t have money for health insurance.’ So this affects women right where they are.”

DeGette said the general stand taken now by Republicans, where family planning is equated with abortion, has made it “very hard for people of good intent” in Washington to work together to bolster women’s health.

“There’s a real bipartisan tradition of pro-family planning. On the board of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains there are many Republicans,” she said. “But in Congress, Republicans are being pushed not just into an anti-abortion position but also into an anti-family planning, an anti-birth control position.”

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