Bill to slash Planned Parenthood funding passes first hurdle in Pa. Senate

Posted on April 27, 2017

Originally appearing online in PennLive
April 26, 2017
By: Charles Thompson

A Senate committee passed a bill Wednesday that critics say is aimed at cutting off state and federal funding for family planning services to Planned Parenthood and other groups that perform abortions.

The measure is an off-shoot of federal funding debates that, earlier this month, saw President Trump sign legislation that removed an Obama-era ban on such restrictions by state and local governments.

Trump signed that law on April 12.

The Pennsylvania measure, sponsored by Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair County, would effectively bar most state and federal family planning funding from any entity that also provides abortion.

Federal law already bars public funds from paying directly for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or to save a woman’s life.

Eichelberger said his measure – by prioritizing funding to hospitals, public health clinics and rural health care centers – is intended to make better use of taxpayer dollars by directing recipients of publicly-funded services to facilities that provide fuller ranges of health care services.

“They (Planned Parenthood) don’t do lots of things that families need, women need,” Eichelberger said.

This is, he said, an attempt to “make sure people are getting real care when they need health care services… That’s the real key to somebody having a healthy life.”

Planned Parenthood does specializes in reproductive health services.

But its supporters have argued that its expertise in those areas – including contraception and education services – and immediacy of care are precisely why it should continue to be fully eligible for funds.

The funds subject to Eichelberger’s proposed restrictions now goes to preventative care and other services such as cancer screenings, birth control education and supplies, testing and treatment for sexually-transmitted diseases, and wellness exams.

Planned Parenthood served about 90,000 patients in Pennsylvania last year through 32 facilities, though it was not immediately clear how many of those were served through the affected funding streams.

About one-third of the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics do perform abortions.

Eichelberger said Wednesday he believed Planned Parenthood clinics that currently receive the funds in question would continue to be eligible for public funds, because they don’t provide abortion services on site.

But Sari Stevens, executive director of Planned Parenthood’s state advocacy network, said she believes current wording of the bill could lead to a blanket defunding of its clinics.

That would likely lead to the closure of some clinics, and a reduction in services to patients. That could have the unintended consequence, she warned, of more unplanned pregnancies and – as a result – abortions.

The Guttmacher Institute, a Washington D.C.-based reproductive health rights organization, has estimated that publicly-funded family planning centers in Pennsylvania helped avert 52,800 unplanned pregnancies in 2014.

The institute projected that would have led to 19,000 abortions that year.

SB 300’s supporters, however, have noted that there would be no overall cutbacks in family planning funding.

Passage of Eichelberger’s bill, it must be noted, is no sure thing in the face of a promised vote from Gov. Tom Wolf.

“Some politicians in Harrisburg are dead set on putting themselves in between a woman and her doctor, and preventing… access to services they may not have an opportunity to get elsewhere,” Wolf said in a statement released by his office after the committee vote.

Arguing that Planned Parenthood has an important role to play in many medically underserved areas, Wolf called on Senate leadership to drop the bill, and added he will veto it if it reaches his desk.

That means, like many abortion bills pending in this divided era of state government, will rest on its ability to win with veto-proof majorities.

Eichelberger’s bill came up short on that score Wednesday, passing on a 7-5, mostly party line vote in the Senate Finance Committee. ‘No’ votes were cast by the four Democrats on the committee, plus Republican Pat Browne from Lehigh County.

The Democrats said they could not support an attack on Planned Parenthood that would lead, in their view, to a reduction in access to health services.

Eichelberger, however, said the bill is important to Pennsylvanians who do not want to subsidize abortion providers in any way, shape or form.

“I hear complaints lots of times about sending tax dollars to Planned Parenthood,” he noted during debate on the bill, when asked what complaints he had with the system as it exists.

“I hear that almost daily from citizens,” Eichelberger added.

Neither the state, nor Planned Parenthood, could provide detailed figures on the funding streams delineated in Eichelberger’s bill Wednesday afternoon.

Eichelberger’s measure is the second bill to get early debate this session related to abortion issues.

As one of its first actions this session, the Senate passed a bill that would bar most elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, and prohibit one of the procedures that is commonly used for second trimester abortions.

That bill has moved to the House, which has not begun consideration of it yet but did pass similar language last year.

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