Missouri Legislators Cite Right-Wing Media Myth As They Defund Planned Parenthood

Anti-Choice Legislators Reject $8.3 Million And Opt To Pay Out Of Pocket To Attack Planned Parenthood

On April 19, the Obama administration issued an unprecedented warning to officials in all 50 states that “actions to end Medicaid funding of Planned Parenthood may be out of compliance with federal law,” following actions by 24 states against the women’s health provider since July. Missouri lawmakers responded by approving a new budget that rejects millions in federal Medicaid funds for family planning and reproductive health exams -- all in an effort to defund Planned Parenthood.

The Missouri budget decision comes amid a larger battle in which anti-choice lawmakers have threatened Mary Kogut -- the president of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri -- with jail time for refusing to turn over records of patients who have received abortion care at a St. Louis Planned Parenthood clinic.

The Associated Press wrote that the approved budget not only “rejected more than $8.3 million in federal Medicaid funding” -- money that was allocated for “family planning, sexually transmitted disease testing and pelvic exams” -- it also “replaced it with money from Missouri’s general revenues … and stipulated that none of it could go to organizations that provide abortions.” In other words, the budget will force Missouri taxpayers to foot the bill for approximately $10.8 million in necessary family planning and reproductive health resources, even though “budget staffers estimated less than $400,000 in Medicaid payments go to Missouri’s 13 Planned Parenthood clinics.”

Since the release of deceptively edited videos from the discredited group Center for Medical Progress (CMP), Media Matters' 2015 Misinformer of the Year, anti-choice legislators have repeated right-wing media misinformation about Planned Parenthood in an ongoing attempt to defund the organization. They have often justified these efforts by falsely claiming that community health clinics can effectively fill the gap left by barring Planned Parenthood from state and federal health care programs, an allegation echoed in Missouri.

According to the Associated Press, state Sen. Kurt Shaefer, the Republican chair of the legislature’s appropriations committee, commented that “Medicaid patients can still go to county health departments, rural health clinics and federally qualified centers.” He said: "'If someone wants to go to Planned Parenthood, they’re free to do that ... Taxpayers in Missouri just aren’t going to pay for it anymore.'”

His claim echoes those made by right-wing media that community clinics can completely fulfill the needs served by state health care programs. In reality, there is ample evidence that removing Planned Parenthood from such programs has a detrimental impact. In fact, experts have explained that the idea of community health clinics filling in for Planned Parenthood is “a gross misrepresentation of what even the best community health centers in the country would be able to do."

Recent studies show that defunding Planned Parenthood can lead to decreased access to contraception, particular for low-income women. In February, a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that when Texas similarly eliminated Planned Parenthood from its family planning program, there were “over 30 percent fewer claims for long-acting and injectable contraceptives among low-income patients using the Women’s Health Program.”

According to earlier research from the Guttmacher Institute, in 103 U.S. counties, Planned Parenthood is the only “safety-net health center” accessible for women seeking contraceptive services. Guttmacher noted that Planned Parenthood is the only provider of publicly subsidized contraceptive services and typically can see more patients annually for these services than “other types of safety-net providers.” Furthermore, access to contraception is critical for “women’s social and economic advancement” and “has a positive impact on their education and workforce participation, as well as on subsequent outcomes reality related to income, family stability, mental health and happiness, and children’s well-being.”

Contraception is not the only service patients lose access to when states defund Planned Parenthood. For example, in 2011 Indiana cut funding to Planned Parenthood, which left one rural county without an HIV testing center as it experienced growth in HIV infections.

Sarah Felts, a Planned Parenthood spokesperson in Missouri, told the Associated Press that in spite of the new state budget, their commitment to the community had not changed: “Planned Parenthood will continue accepting new Medicaid patients ‘no matter what.’”

*Photo courtesy of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.