By Peter Jenkins
Two weeks ago, Governor Bobby Jindal announced his administration would end state contracts with Planned Parenthood. Specifically, he was talking about ending Planned Parenthood’s ability to get Medicaid refunds for the basic health care services that the group provides to low-income residents around the state.
Planned Parenthood is an organization that got its start in the early 1900s in Brooklyn. Since then, it has had a mission of providing healthcare to anyone who needs affordable services. Some Planned Parenthood locations provide abortion services, but the organization has never provided the service in Louisiana. Some of the health care services that the organization does routinely provide are cancer screenings, pap smears, STD screenings, vaccines, and birth control.
Many Louisiana residents expressed disappointing and outrage about Jindal’s decision, leading Planned Parenthood leaders to deliver 6,068 supporter cards to the Governor’s office on Aug. 15. Because of the wide array of health care services offered by Planned Parenthood, many Baton Rouge residents are jumping to the organization’s defense, sharing their stories about receiving care from the organization.
For 18-year-old Baton Rouge resident Raven Jade, Planned Parenthood is a “life-saver.” Jade’s menstrual cycle was so painful that she would sometimes pass out, and she once had to miss 32 days of her senior year of high school due to the intensity of her pain. At first, Women’s Hospital tried multiple treatments on her, some which worked better than others, but none that fixed the problem.
Afterwards, she went to her local clinic and was prescribed a NuvaRing, which manages her symptoms well. She attributes Planned Parenthood to helping her through the process of finding a healthcare option that worked for her.
“When I told them I didn’t have insurance, they explained my options to me and treated me with respect,” she said. “I genuinely think Planned Parenthood saved me.”
Liam Lair, a trans man who moved to the Baton Rouge area in early 2014, described how difficult it was for him to find a doctor. Much of this difficulty was due to doctors either outright refusing to see him as a trans person or doctors not understanding how to provide quality healthcare to transgender people and thus Lair was put into uncomfortable and even hostile situations while he was just trying to get a basic check up. After an exhaustive search, he said that only one primary care physician in the area would even agree to see him. But when he reached out to Planned Parenthood, it was different.
“The staff and doctors treated me with respect and professionalism,” he said. “If PP hadn’t been around, I don’t know what I would have done—I don’t think I would have seen a doctor.”
Many see Jindal’s decision as another move in a war on women and the working poor. In a press release, Deon Haywood, the executive director of Women With a Vision, Inc., said that this decision endangers many women in Baton Rouge and across Louisiana. “Our state is playing games with the lives of poor women and women of color,” Haywood said. “Ending the Medicaid contract creates even more barriers to needed reproductive health care services in a state with some of the highest health disparities in the nation. This is an outright attack on poor women.”
According to Melissa Flournoy, Louisiana State Director of Planned Parenthood, the decision is a significant blow to uninsured members of the community.
“More than 4,300 low-income, uninsured women and men were able to access highquality affordable health care through the safety net provided by Medicaid funding,” Flournoy said. “The men and women who benefit from this funding often have limited health care access, and we are often their primary health care provider.”
As for what Planned Parenthood will be doing in the coming weeks and months Flournoy said. “We will do everything we can to ensure those women and men will always be able to get the health care they need.”
Louisiana joins Alabama and New Hampshire in attempting to stop giving Medicaid money to Planned Parenthood. Their position is that since Medicaid money is federal money, states do not have a right to stop step in to make rules about who can get that federal money. The Obama administration has issued warnings to each of these states, but the controversy is still unraveling.
The fight will most likely end up in court, and that will take some time. In the meantime, the poor and uninsured will have to worry about how to get health care while waiting for the outcome of such a case or for the next governor to reverse this decision.