The Trump Administration released its 2018 proposal for the federal budget on Tuesday, and it included an unprecedented policy change: withholding all federal funds from Planned Parenthood. To many, this news was unsurprising, but it was no less historic: For the first time ever, a presidential budget is singling out a specific healthcare provider in what can only be termed a political attack. Also a first: the suggestion that the blocking of funds to Planned Parenthood go beyond Medicaid reimbursements to include all federal funds, including family planning grants and funds for sexual education and sexual assault survivors.
So, why does the current administration care so much about hurting this particular organization? Abortion, of course. But abortion makes up just 3% of what Planned Parenthood does. And already, no taxpayer dollars go toward abortion, outside of cases of rape or life endangerment, per the Hyde Amendment, explains Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund: “This actually has nothing to do with abortion services. Ironically, all of the healthcare services that this president is now trying to end access to are preventive health care.” Ironic is one way to label it.
Richards is engaged in the of the fight of her life — the fight of our lives, really — but she took 15 minutes to talk with Refinery29 about what’s really at stake in this budget debate, what comes next for Planned Parenthood, and what she wants you to do now. She also shared some, um, pointed words for one Ivanka Trump.
Let’s pretend Trump’s ideas about blocking Planned Parenthood make their way into the budget. How does this affect Planned Parenthood's work, and reproductive healthcare access in general, in the real world?
"For the very first time in history, a president has proposed a budget that would prohibit a specific healthcare provider from providing care in any program funded through Congress. And so it's not only blocking patients — more than a million-and-a-half that come to us every year who are on Medicaid — from coming to us for preventive health services, but it also blocks the participation of Planned Parenthood in things like HIV prevention grants. We do a lot of work to do detection and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. It would prevent us from participating in Violence Against Women Act grants, which we use to do a lot of work helping survivors of sexual assault and giving them the treatment that they need. Many survivors prefer to come to Planned Parenthood because this is our expertise and exactly the kind of care we provide. It also would block us from participating in sex education programs. We're the single largest provider of sex education in the country.
"I could go on and on. But, the impact on our patients, many of whom consider Planned Parenthood their sole healthcare provider, is going to be enormous. And we've already seen what happens in states where you put politics ahead of access to health care for women, like my home state of Texas where now the maternal mortality rates have doubled.
"It's a terrible budget. And I think it's a reflection of an administration that does not care about women and is willing to make all kinds of political decisions that are going to disadvantage millions of women in this country."
Opponents say "Well, we don't want to pay for your birth control" as reasons for wanting to block Planned Parenthood funding. So, what would you say to those people?
"More than 90% of women in this country use family planning. It's incredibly popular. It is the single best method for reducing unintended pregnancy that we know. Unintended pregnancy costs this country billions of dollars every year. And so, for any taxpayer who's concerned about how their money is used, I’d say we could be saving a record amount of dollars if we actually got affordable, accessible birth control to every woman who needs it. The numbers are just irrefutable. Every dollar spent on family planning saves at least $5 in the cost of unintended pregnancy in this country.
"I think it's important, though, to tie this budget back to the Republicans' healthcare bill. It's all part of the same assault on the access to affordable health care. This healthcare bill combined with this budget will not only make it virtually impossible for many women to get access to family planning services (and certainly the full range of birth control), it will make it much more difficult to get maternity benefits and prenatal care. And then, also of course, this budget ends access for millions of children to healthcare coverage. This from the supposedly pro-family party!
"They're making it harder to prevent an unintended pregnancy, harder to have a healthy pregnancy, and harder to raise children in a healthy way. This is just simply un-American and it is wildly unpopular. And so we believe it's incredibly important that your readers and folks across America contact their member of Congress and their senator and say, 'This is not supported by the American people,' even if it gets tedious, because they pay attention and they track these calls."
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We've already seen four clinics close in Iowa after the state made it so Medicaid could not be used at Planned Parenthood. Years before, the same thing happened in Texas. How likely is it that we will need to close even more clinics if this goes through, and is there any back-up plan?
"Well, we're planning for whatever eventuality happens. Look, the thing is, this is the heartbreaking thing: Planned Parenthood just celebrated their 100th anniversary, and we're proud that we're now providing healthcare to 2.5 million people every year. We're going to continue.
"I think the real question here is: What happens to the 1.6 million people who currently come to us for health care, if the Trump administration and Congress says to them they can't go there anymore?
"So that's really what we're fighting for: How do we ensure that people will continue to get coverage in America, and continue to get health care. As you know, these issues are far beyond Planned Parenthood. We're talking about literally millions of people in this country losing access to health care. That's our commitment: to ensure that we have healthcare equity in America, but this administration and this Congress is making it very difficult. Just looking at the numbers: the millions of children who would lose healthcare coverage under this administration is an outrage."
Have you had any more conversations with Ivanka?
"I haven't, no. In terms of Ivanka Trump, now she's a member of the White House. She's one of the highest ranking, if not the highest ranking, woman in the White House. As far as I'm concerned, this is a budget that she now is responsible for. She's responsible for all women's issues. And this is the most outrageous attack on women, women's rights, women's access to health care, that we've seen from any president.
"I think it is absolutely time for her to be accountable if she believes women should be full members of this society and full participants in our economy. This is going to make it impossible for millions of women to do that."
Do you have any plans to work with Hillary Clinton and her new group Onward Together?
"I haven't talked to her about that. I think they're investing in some smaller groups, which is great. I think the good thing is there's an explosion of activity that's out there. We have seen, just at Planned Parenthood since the election, more than a million new activists. We are absolutely active in both organizing community meetings, participating in town hall meetings. We're having patients who are coming out of the woodwork who have never been involved, who have never marched, who have never perhaps done anything active before who now know all of the rights that we perhaps have assumed we would have going forward, are at risk. And it's time to get engaged."
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.