Community Health Centers Say They Don't Want Funding Stripped From Planned Parenthood

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Rep. Martha McSally voted last week to defund Planned Parenthood for one year but hasn't said whether she wants to defund the organization permanently.
  • Rep. Martha McSally voted last week to defund Planned Parenthood for one year but hasn't said whether she wants to defund the organization permanently.
After voting last week to cut off all federal funding for Planned Parenthood for one year, Congresswoman Martha McSally was one of 11 freshmen who signed onto a letter opposing a government shutdown over the issue.

But McSally’s office has declined to say whether she still supports shutting off funding for Planned Parenthood in the future. Several GOP presidential candidates as well as Republican lawmakers have vowed to cut off the federal funds Planned Parenthood now receives to provide treatment for STDs, cancer screenings and contraception, among other healthcare services. Federal law prohibits Planned Parenthood from using tax dollars for abortion services.

McSally spokesman Patrick Ptak told the Weekly earlier this week that McSally had pushed to include a provision in the Defund Planned Parenthood Act of 2105 to move the funding that now goes to Planned Parenthood to other community health centers, such as El Rio Community Health Center.

But Tara Plese, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Alliance of Community Health Centers, says the organization—which represents community health centers across the state, including El Rio—doesn’t see that plan as viable.

“While we really appreciate the support we’re getting from both sides of the aisle, we just want to make it clear that we don’t want to take funding from any other healthcare organization,” Plese said. “We don’t think it’s the right approach to do that.”

Plese was reluctant to criticize McSally’s proposal but said the idea of sending Planned Parenthood dollars to community health centers is questionable.

“Quite honestly, I think the assertion that health centers are going to pick up the slack because we’re going to get a little bit more funding is probably not accurate,” Plese said. “Because the way that the health system works, we need our partner organizations working in tandem to be able to adequately deliver these services and one of those organizations is Planned Parenthood. We really rely on them to pick up a lot of the slack for those areas that we cannot cover.”

Plese said part of the problem is that El Rio doesn’t have enough obstetricians and gynecologists to handle the additional patient load. On top of that, many people choose to use Planned Parenthood to get tested for sexually transmitted diseases because the organization offers anonymity and some of those who are getting tested for STDs don’t want their primary-care doctors or insurance companies to know they may have caught an STD.

“They want the anonymity,” Plese said. “It’s a privacy issue and they don’t want that to show up on their explanation of benefits.”

Plese said that Planned Parenthood clinics “exist for a reason.”

“They are filling a gap in services that our community health centers and other primary care providers are not able to fill,” Plese said.

Asked about the concerns that community health centers expressed about taking Planned Parenthood funding, Ptak said that McSally “is passionate about ensuring women, especially low-income women, get access to birth control and reproductive health care. She visited El Rio twice as a candidate, and toured the El Rio birth center since being elected. Her focus is on producing the best outcomes that ensure women have adequate access to care in the community."

"When Rep. McSally was informed this legislation was going forward for a vote in the House, she engaged her colleagues and House leadership to ensure any funds suspended for a year would be diverted and increased to other health centers,” Ptak added via email. “Our office also engaged off the record with officials at community health centers in the district for their input and feedback‎. Over recent weeks, Congresswoman McSally has been helping lead an effort to avoid a government shutdown. Moving forward, she is focused on pragmatic, achievable solutions that will preserve women’s access to health care."

Ptak did not say whether McSally, who has said she opposes allowing women to have abortions except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is at stake, supported cutting off all funding for Planned Parenthood in the future.

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