Guest Commentary

Planned Parenthood’s loss of Title X funds has damaging ramifications

Planned Parenthood is no stranger to repeated attempts to restrict funding and block patients from accessing the full range of sexual and reproductive health care we provide. Over the past decade, Kansas politicians have attempted to “defund” our organization by playing politics with Title X and Medicaid funding.

Since Planned Parenthood hasn’t received Title X funding in Kansas for over four years, it’s important to provide an accurate history of our removal from the program and underscore the damaging ramifications to the health of communities where access to sexual and reproductive health care was eliminated.

In 2014, after a multi-year battle in the capitol and appeals courts, Planned Parenthood stopped receiving Title X funds in Kansas. This decision was based solely on state politics. Title X is the nation’s only federal family planning program that allows health centers to provide reduced or no-cost preventive care such as birth control, STD (sexually transmitted diseases) testing and treatment, and cancer screenings to patients. At that time, Planned Parenthood provided birth control to more than 9,000 Kansans, as well as 8,000 STD tests and treatments, and more than 2,800 cancer screenings. That same year, nearly 200,000 women across Kansas relied on publicly supported sexual and reproductive health care services.

The long-term effect of losing Title X funds is becoming clear — Kansans most in need ultimately suffer. In western Kansas, sexual and reproductive health care options diminished significantly following Title X defunding, leading to the closure of two family planning health centers: Dodge City Family Planning Clinic in 2012 and our own Hays health center less than three months after Planned Parenthood was pushed out of the Title X program. Kansas’ history is inevitably a harbinger of what’s to come across the country following the nationwide gag rule that went into effect last month.

Blocking funding for political reasons has created fissures in the state’s fragile public health infrastructure — a fabric that continues to unravel due to the state Legislature’s inability to expand Medicaid and the pervasive closures of rural hospitals.

Instead of focusing on the rising gonorrhea and syphilis rates in rural Kansas, politicians with anti-sexual and reproductive health agendas have funneled limited taxpayer dollars to non-medical clinics and have fueled medically inaccurate misinformation campaigns across the state.

Title X, one of the few bipartisan health bills, was originally designed to ensure that everyone, no matter where they live or how much money they make, has access to basic preventive sexual and reproductive health care. While Title X strictly prohibits funding for abortion services, medical providers have long been able to ensure that their patients receive all options, including information about prenatal care, adoption, and abortion when needed. The recent gag rule requires providers to withhold medical information, putting patients’ health at risk and limiting their ability to access health care.

At Planned Parenthood, we know our patients have a fundamental right to medically accurate information about all of their health care options — which the Kansas Supreme Court agrees includes safe, legal abortion. Further, we know that a majority of Kansans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Thousands of these Kansans are women who receive care at our health centers in Overland Park and Wichita each year.

Although Planned Parenthood does not currently receive Title X funding in Kansas, we will never lose sight of our mission to provide and protect access to sexual and reproductive health care. Planned Parenthood is a trusted resource for sexual and reproductive health care and a vital part of the public health infrastructure of Kansas. We will always prioritize the health of our patients over politics — it’s time for Kansas’ elected officials to do the same.

Brandon J. Hill is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains