When the War on Planned Parenthood Makes People (Very) Sick

A few years back, when the rightwing assault on Planned Parenthood kicked into high gear, I explained why I supported Planned Parenthood:

For the younger readers–and by younger, I mean those in their twenties–it’s hard to describe the AIDS-related paranoia of the late eighties and early nineties; the discrimination and hysteria towards Ryan White was still very fresh (kids, read this, then come on back). I’ll also throw into the mix that insurance companies have always been cheapskate bastards. So, if you were sexually active and did the responsible thing by getting regularly tested for STDs, you definitely didn’t want your insurance company knowing about it, especially if you were an unmarried male with a college degree and a low BMI in the Northeast*. Healthcare isn’t cheap to begin with, especially when you’re a graduate student or post-doc.

Thankfully, Planned Parenthood provided–and still provides–cheap (or, if you need it, often free) STD testing. And it’s very confidential: to get your results, you went to the office and get them. You received a version of the results to take with you; literally, a clean bill of health to show your partner if you desired. No messages left on the answering machine for roommates to intercept (back then, that’s what we used. And they had cassette tapes too!).

As I’ve often said around these parts, the best way to deal with an infectious disease is to not get it in the first place. STD testing is critical.

Last weekend, I discussed how Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, who is justly receiving criticism for supporting and signing an anti-gay bill, also, through his erroneous belief that needle exchange encourages drug use, helped foster an HIV outbreak. Well, it gets worse (boldface mine):

Scott County, Indiana, the center of an exploding HIV outbreak, has been without an HIV testing center since early 2013, when the sole provider — a Planned Parenthood clinic — was forced to close its doors. The clinic did not offer abortion services.

The Scott County clinic and four other Planned Parenthood facilities in the state, all of which provided HIV testing and information, have shuttered since 2011, in large part due to funding cuts to the state’s public health infrastructure. Those cuts came amid a national and local political campaign to demonize the health care provider. Now, the state is scrambling to erect pop-up clinics to combat an unprecedented HIV epidemic caused by intravenous drug use.

The fact that Scott County was “without a testing facility until a few weeks ago is a glaring example of the kind of public health crisis that results when prevention and testing are left unfunded,” said Patti Stauffer, Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky’s vice president for public policy.

Indiana’s GOP-led state legislature was one of the first to declare war against Planned Parenthood in 2011, when it passed a bill that defunded the family planning provider because some of its clinics offer abortion services. A federal judge later blocked that law from going into effect, but the state has continued to slash various sources of funding to Planned Parenthood at a time when the cost of operating a medical facility continues to rise.

In 2005, Planned Parenthood of Indiana received a total of $3.3 million in funding from government contracts and grants. By 2014, that funding had dropped to $1.9 million. Five of Planned Parenthood’s smaller clinics in the state — the health centers in Scottsburg, Madison, Richmond, Bedford and Warsaw — were unable to keep up with the growing technology costs that were necessary to remain competitive as a medical provider. All five clinics that were forced to close had offered HIV testing. None had offered abortions.

Even without five of its clinics, Planned Parenthood’s HIV testing in Indiana has been increasing each year. Overall, the provider’s 25 remaining clinics in Kentucky and Indiana gave more than 8,000 HIV tests in 2014, about 1,000 more than the previous year. And the numbers would certainly be higher if the five shuttered clinics in Indiana had been able to continue to operate.

While Pence wasn’t part of the Indiana assault–he was a Congressman at the time–he did lead the effort at the federal level to eliminate Planned Parenthood’s funding.

Not only does Pence believe needle exchange is harmful, he also thinks cutting funding for an organization that provides a vital health service–and can limit the spread of AIDS–is a good idea. These beliefs made people sick.

Amazingly, until the anti-gay legislation, much of the Washington press corps(e) believed Pence was a ‘Republican moderate.’ How many more have to get AIDS or have some other horrible–and preventable–affliction before they stop pushing the lie of the Republican moderate? Though I suppose people in a poor Indiana community really aren’t their sort, so no big deal, right?

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