Update: Bill To Defund Planned Parenthood Has Been Blocked

UPDATE: With a 53-46 vote (just short of the 60 votes the GOP needed), the Senate has blocked measures to defund Planned Parenthood.

This post was originally published today at 5 p.m.

Tonight, the Senate will vote on a bill that could freeze federal funding for Planned Parenthood. The women's healthcare provider has been in the hot seat for several weeks now, following the release of videos alleging that it sells fetal tissue obtained through routine abortions. Despite the fact that it's crystal-clear that the videos were doctored to misrepresent the truth — and that Planned Parenthood representatives have answered each allegation, point for point, with complete transparency — conservative lawmakers forged forth with a plan to discredit and defund the nonprofit organization.

"Today’s vote is just the latest attempt in a decades-long political effort by extreme Republicans, who are willing and eager to undermine women’s health in order to score political points with their Tea Party base," Sen. Patty Murray, D-WA, a longtime veteran in the battle for women's reproductive rights, told Refinery29 via email. "It’s deeply disappointing that despite how much women, families, and communities rely on Planned Parenthood for critical healthcare services — everything from cancer screenings to birth control — we have to keep having this fight in Congress."

Although the bill is unlikely to pass, it's bad news that it came this close to fruition: The support it garnered so quickly has dangerous implications for reproductive rights. Anyone with doubts needs only to look at Texas — a state that very suddenly left tens of thousands of women without access to cancer screenings, birth control, HIV tests, and other preventive-care services in 2013.

Texas has long been one of the country's more hostile places for women's reproductive freedoms. After the state slashed funding for women's healthcare services, it also passed a controversial law that forced a number of clinics that provided abortion to close — and restricted Planned Parenthood's ability to provide abortion services at most of its remaining clinics. As a result, women swiftly lost access to not only abortion but also other important gynecological and family-planning care. In spring 2015, The Texas Policy Evaluation Project surveyed the damage. It was extensive.

We already know what happens when Planned Parenthood loses funding: Texas is the failed prototype.

The project found an alarming number of barriers to female wellness care: Women reported that they could not afford services or to travel to care facilities; or secure a provider they felt comfortable with; or find a clinic that accepted their insurance; or locate a clinic within their own communities. Nearly a third of surveyed women reported preferring to use a more effective method of birth control but being unable to do so. The number-one reason? They couldn't afford it, with or without insurance.

Furthermore, Texas saw 24,000 unplanned births in the year following the budget cuts, which raised state and taxpayer Medicaid costs by an estimated $273 million; between 2013 and 2015, the state spent an additional $136 million on maternal and infant care — which can clearly be traced back to the budget cuts. The women who felt the greatest impact were mostly young, poor, and unmarried, and typically did not have Internet access in their homes. In other words, they were a highly vulnerable cohort to begin with, made only more so by the loss of reproductive choices, resources, and preventive measures.

The bill that arrives on the floor this evening will most negatively affect that same demographic of women — one that really needs Planned Parenthood as a resource. "This proposal demonstrates a lack of respect for and understanding of the preventive health needs of the millions of individuals who rely on it as their usual, and oftentimes sole, source of health care," Erica Sackin, Planned Parenthood's director of political communications, told Refinery29 in an emailed statement. "In many communities, there are not other healthcare providers that would be equipped to fill the void created by the prohibition of funding for a qualified, trusted family-planning provider" — in other words, exactly what has already played out on a state level.

We already know what happens when Planned Parenthood loses funding: Texas is the failed prototype. That experiment provided plenty of insights about why it's a major — and majorly costly — mistake. Divesting in women's health care is downright dangerous; being unable to see past a conservative agenda to restrict abortion rights is a more-than-dangerous shortsightedness.

Related: Watch some of our favorite celebrities, from Kristen Bell to Mae Whitman, stand up for Planned Parenthood.


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