Health & Medicine

Hundreds rally for Planned Parenthood at state Capitol amid defunding threats

Pink scarves, hats and boxing gloves symbolizing opposition to threats to defund Planned Parenthood were the fashion du jour Tuesday outside the state Capitol, where hundreds of people from around Northern California rallied to support the network of health clinics that treat many of the state’s low-income women.

The midday mix of protest and party featuring pink-clad legislators and celebrities pushed back against federal threats to block Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid funding. Beneath the festivities in downtown Sacramento, however, roiled worry from patients about where they’ll find affordable health care if the clinics close their doors.

State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Léon, D-Los Angeles, issued a call to action amid whoops and cheers. Others who spoke included U.S. Rep. Ami Bera, D-Elk Grove, state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, and actress and writer Lena Dunham of the HBO show “Girls.”

“We are here because we are exceptionally concerned,” de Léon said. “We hear the chatter coming out of Washington, D.C. We know what (House Speaker) Paul Ryan has said he’s going to do. … We know the services that are provided by Planned Parenthood, and we will not go back.”

Planned Parenthood in California receives about $260 million in Medicaid reimbursements and other federal funds every year. Serving roughly 850,000 patients in the state, the organization’s 115 clinics provide free reproductive health services such as cancer screenings, sexually transmitted disease treatment and fertility care as well as general health services including vaccines, diabetes and cholesterol screenings and smoking-cessation support.

Lacey Faris, a Sacramento resident who works as a doula and nanny, said she relies on Planned Parenthood for gynecological services and care related to her anemia. She worries that if she can’t get free care at Planned Parenthood, she won’t be able to afford another provider, especially if she loses her Medi-Cal coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

“Everybody there is really attentive,” she said of her doctors at a Sacramento Planned Parenthood clinic. “The relationships we build there are so supportive. When I became insured with Medi-Cal I could have tried to find another gynecologist, but I chose to stay with Planned Parenthood.”

Republicans have attempted to cut off Planned Parenthood from federal funding several times in the last decade because it performs abortions; President Barack Obama vetoed the most recent attempt last January. With Donald Trump poised to become president, Ryan said earlier this month that he would finally remove the clinics from Medicaid.

Abortions make up 2 percent of all care provided by Planned Parenthood, according to the organization. The federal Hyde Amendment already forbids federal funding to be used for abortion services except to save a woman’s life, or if the pregnancy arises from incest or rape.

The cancer, diabetes and cholesterol screenings that Planned Parenthood provides are especially crucial for keeping California’s publicly insured residents healthy, said Robert Faurote, a registered nurse at Stanford University who traveled to Sacramento for the rally. Planned Parenthood serves 15 percent of California’s 12 million Medicaid beneficiaries.

Faurote held a sign Tuesday reading “Nurses for Progress,” while others showed off slogans such as “We won’t go back,” “I stand with PP” and “Women’s rights not up for grabs.” No anti-abortion protests materialized at the state Capitol.

“Preventative care is something we lose when we lose insurance and health coverage for Americans,” Faurote said. “They come in when they’re having an emergency. We’re not able to catch things early. … We’re politicizing women’s health, and it’s not right.”

Kathy Kneer, president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, said she knows many of the organization’s patients have transportation issues and other barriers to health care, and will be hard-pressed to find another way to get checkups, lab tests and prescriptions should any clinics shut down.

The California Senate and Assembly each passed resolutions Tuesday afternoon insisting that Planned Parenthood should continue to receive Medicaid funds. If those efforts fail, the organization has said the state could step in with its own funding.

“It’s one place that’s easy for our patients to get all the health care they need,” Kneer said. “They rely on us, and we want to be there for them.”

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola

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