Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is disappointed that a Republican-led effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act includes a provision to defund Planned Parenthood that could threaten thousands of Mainers’ access to preventive health care.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., held a news conference Thursday announcing a plan to strip millions of federal dollars from Planned Parenthood as part of the Republican effort to repeal the health care law that is one of President Obama’s signature achievements. Ryan spoke a day after a House panel issued a report criticizing Planned Parenthood for its practices in providing researchers with tissue from aborted fetuses.

Most Republican lawmakers have long opposed Planned Parenthood because many of its clinics, including the one in Portland, provide abortions, in addition to other preventive health care services such as birth control, cancer screening and disease testing.

“Obviously, I’m not happy that the speaker has decided to include the defunding of Planned Parenthood – an extremely controversial issue – in the package,” Collins told reporters Thursday in Washington. “There is a group of House Republicans led by Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) who are opposed to the defunding of Planned Parenthood in the (budget reconciliation) bill, and I hope they will be successful in separating the two issues or knocking it out altogether.”

Reconciliation is a congressional procedure allowing legislation to bypass a Senate filibuster, meaning it would need only a simple majority to pass rather than a 60-vote super-majority. Republicans have a 52-to-48 majority in the Senate.

GROUP APPEALS FOR PUSH-BACK

Planned Parenthood of Northern New England reacted angrily to the news of the bid to cut the organization’s funding, urging supporters to defend the agency by sending letters to members of Congress, volunteering for Planned Parenthood, attending marches and rallies, and even calling their representatives in Congress. If Ryan and fellow Republicans are successful, Planned Parenthood would not be reimbursed for services provided to patients insured by Medicaid and Medicare.

Defunding the organization would take away roughly $400 million in Medicaid funds nationwide the year after the cut is enacted, resulting in about 400,000 women losing access to care, the Associated Press reported.

“Defunding Planned Parenthood would put the health of thousands of Mainers at risk,” Nicole Clegg, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, said in a written statement Thursday. “Women, men and young people come through our doors every day for lifesaving care like cancer screenings, birth control, and disease testing and treatment. They cannot afford to have access to basic reproductive health care taken away.”

Roughly 10,000 Mainers use Planned Parenthood services, Clegg said, with about 13 percent of them men and 87 percent women. Planned Parenthood also provides care for transgender people.

“Planned Parenthood is an important part of Maine’s health care system. The preventive care Planned Parenthood provides saves taxpayers millions each year in averted health care costs,” Clegg said in the statement. “Now, more than ever, we need our leaders to stand up for our patients. Too much is at risk and too many people could be hurt by the unpopular agenda of a few politicians who will do anything to interfere with women’s private, personal medical decisions.”

Clegg said roughly 25 percent of her organization’s $4 million operating budget for Maine comes from federal funds. She said the annual budget for all three states, including New Hampshire and Vermont, totals $16 million.

Maine Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-2nd District, issued a statement Thursday night that noted his district doesn’t have any Planned Parenthood locations, but is home to federally qualified health care centers that could benefit if the budget reconciliation proposal increases funding for women’s health care.

“I look forward to reviewing different budget proposals and to supporting lifesaving care for those in Maine’s 2nd District,” Poliquin said, noting that he has consistently supported the current laws that prohibit federal funds from being used for elective abortions.

OPPOSING AN ‘IDEOLOGICAL AGENDA’

Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, objected to the Republican defunding plan, adding that he hoped his colleagues will drop the issue and focus on more important matters such as growing the economy and creating jobs.

“I do not understand this relentless pursuit to defund an organization that provides thousands of women and men across Maine with critical health care services,” King said in a written statement. “This seems like nothing other than a misguided push to prioritize a campaign pledge ahead of the well-being of people across the country, particularly those who are low-income.”

Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, said Ryan’s plan to defund Planned Parenthood is “nothing less than an attack on the health of women in this country for the sake of an ideological agenda. Combining it with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, which has ended the practice of charging higher insurance premiums for women, is like pouring salt on the wound for women’s health care.”

Pingree said the fact that Republicans are choosing to make limiting women’s health care choices their priority “shows a complete ignorance and disregard to the true needs of our country.”

This is not the first time that funding for Planned Parenthood has come under attack. A 2015 budget reconciliation bill that sought to repeal major parts of the Affordable Care Act also included language to defund the group. That bill passed both houses of Congress but was vetoed by Obama.

A PORTLAND WOMAN’S EXPERIENCE

The Washington Post reported that Democrats in Washington are gearing up for a battle.

“We are going to stand against this with very fiber of our beings,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., chairwoman of the House Pro-Choice caucus.

Eden Dyer, a barista who works at a Portland coffee shop, said the expertise of the Planned Parenthood staff may have saved her from a life of agony.

For years, she saw doctors who told her that recurring pelvic pain was normal – until it wasn’t. After passing out in broad daylight from the pain, she saw a health care practitioner at Planned Parenthood in Portland last summer. The 21-year-old Dyer, who is on her parent’s health insurance plan, went there because it was affordable.

She was referred to a gynecologist, who diagnosed her with endometriosis – a painful abdominal disorder in which tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside of it. She may have laparoscopic surgery for the condition. Dyer believes Republicans would be making a huge mistake by defunding Planned Parenthood.

“They do a lot more than what people think they do,” she said.

ONLINE, A NATIONWIDE PETITION

U.S. law prohibits federal funds from being used to pay for abortion services. The Planned Parenthood clinic on Congress Street in Portland is the only one in Maine that provides abortions, Clegg said. Fewer than 5 percent of its patients come to the clinic for abortion services, she said.

The remaining Planned Parenthood centers in Topsham, Biddeford and Sanford provide a wide array of services, including tests for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, birth control, cancer screening, prevention and treatment of reproductive health issues, pregnancy testing and transgender health care.

Clegg said her agency, which serves patients in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, provides health care access to everyone regardless of their ability to pay. Last year, the agency provided $3.5 million in free or discounted health care to Mainers.

Supporters are being urged to sign a national petition asking Congress to stand with Planned Parenthood against the threat. Since Tuesday, more than 63,000 people had signed the petition, which can be viewed online at www.istandwithpp.org.

“Defunding Planned Parenthood is dangerous to people’s health, it’s unpopular, and it would leave people across the country without care,” Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards told the Associated Press. “They cannot afford to have basic reproductive health care attacked. Planned Parenthood has been here for 100 years and we’re going to be here for 100 more.”

 

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