This afternoon, four Planned Parenthood clinics will shut down in Iowa. Once they’ve closed their doors, nearly 15,000 women will lose access to affordable health care services.
The clinics—in Quad Cities, Burlington, Keokuk, and Sioux City—have been forced to shutter after a vote in the Iowa state legislature in March effectively defunded the provider. Republican Gov. Terry Branstad authorized the measure, pledging to use the $3.3 million that the government “saved” in the decision to create a new network of health facilities that do not administer abortions. Of course, exactly zero taxpayer dollars are currently spent on abortion in Iowa or anywhere else in the United States. The public money that Planned Parenthood receives reimburses the organization for services like mammograms and STI tests, all administered at a low cost to the women (and men) who need them.
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Susana de Baca, the president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said in an interview following the legislature’s decision that the move would devastate those who can’t easily access family planning and reproductive health care services, including people of color, young people, low-income people, and rural Iowans.
“Defunding Planned Parenthood will set a health care crisis in motion in Iowa,” de Baca told the Des Moines Register. “We will be watching and holding politicians accountable.”
Advocates in Iowa and nationwide point out that it’s not simple to set up family-planning services and new, well-equipped clinics to accommodate the thousands of women who will now be stranded without care. Experts have predicted rises in unintended pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and unsafe abortions, not to mention cases of cervical or breast cancer that will go undiagnosed.
Annie, a Planned Parenthood patient who was raised and still lives in Burlington, tells ELLE.com that just about every woman she knows has counted on Planned Parenthood for “compassionate care” at some point.
She’s no exception. Annie, who asked that we use only her first name, was 17 when she found out she was pregnant and “had no idea what to do.” At Planned Parenthood, she remembers how staffers presented her with her choices, “judgment free.” Ultimately, she decided to carry to term. And even now, she credits Planned Parenthood with her daughter’s health. “I don’t know where else we would have gone if it hadn’t been for them,” she says. “And I honestly don’t know what people are going to do now.”
Anti-choice advocates have pledged that community health clinics will fill in the gaps when these clinics—one-quarter of the Planned Parenthood clinics in Iowa—close on Friday. But Annie isn’t so sure. She says nearby clinics are understaffed; it’s almost impossible to make an appointment even with a nurse practitioner. And that’s before new patients flood their waiting rooms. “There is no substitute,” Annie insists. “That’s what makes this so terrible.”
And to hear Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, tell it, the damage is just beginning, especially if Republicans succeed in passing their health care bill. “If Trumpcare is passed into law, we’ll see the kind of devastation that’s happening in Iowa nationwide, with far too many women simply going without the health care they need,” Richards said in a statement. “What’s happening in Iowa is heartbreaking—nearly 15,000 people are losing their trusted health care provider. That’s more than just a number.”