An estimated 99,000 low income Ohioans who want birth control and reproductive health care services have fewer options now that Planned Parenthood nationwide has pulled out of the federal Title X program.
Planned Parenthood objects to a new rule that it says restricts the doctor-patient relationship. And in nine counties, it’s the only provider that accepted Title X funds.
Athens is the poorest county in the state, according to Ohio’s 2018 poverty report. It’s also home to one of the largest universities in Ohio. And it’s one of nine counties that will no longer have a Title X provider for reproductive health services now that Planned Parenthood has said it will reject those funds. That’s because of a new rule from the Trump administration preventing any medical provider receiving that money from talking about abortion. Planned Parenthood says it refuses to put that kind of wall between doctors and patients.
Former Ohio University student Emma Schultz says she and others she knows have gone to Planned Parenthood for the privacy it offers when accessing birth control options or STD testing. “If their parents are not approving of them being on birth control or being sexually active, then it can be very scary to disclose that information to your family," Schultz said. "And I believe everyone has the right to that kind of privacy. It’s also if you are in a situation where maybe a partner could find out about things and if you are in an abusive relationship, there are confidentiality issues and everybody deserves to feel safe.”
Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio had received about $4 million a year from the federal government for its non-abortion services, including family planning, cancer screenings and basic health care. Two of the 19 offices Planned Parenthood operates in Ohio offer abortions – in Columbus and Cleveland. The Athens clinic can refer pregnant women to those two clinics, but clinician Jennifer Graham says it’s rare.
“We see by far more of our patients for birth control options than unplanned pregnancies," Graham said. "There’s just no comparison.”
The Athens clinic, like the others, offers birth control, screenings for cancer or sexually transmitted diseases, the HIV prevention drug known as Prep and more.
State lawmakers defunded Planned Parenthood a few years ago, taking away about $1.5 million in annual support for birth control and those tests. Now that there won’t be federal funds to help provide those services, patients without private insurance or Medicaid will have to bear more of the cost, though payment plans have been established to help ease that burden.
Even so, Kristi Steward, the practicing manager at the Athens clinic, says some patients might find it difficult to get the kind of care they need, though the organization says it will continue to do its best to serve everyone.
“We also have a fund that can help to maybe write off the cost in certain situations, if there is any sort of unsafe situation for example, we might really lean on our community funders to help our patients out,” Steward says.
Those who back the new federal rule that precipitated Planned Parenthood’s decision to drop out of the program blame the organization for its decision. “They could still be seeing these people today yet they choose to make sure they are focused on the abortion side of their business, which is their biggest money maker, instead of the others," said Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life. "Now, fortunately for the rest of us, there are hundreds and hundreds of community health centers, local departments of health, minute clinics in every Kroger, Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS, there are plenty of options for women.”
Planned Parenthood’s Susan Quinn disputes that. She says many patients seen at the organization’s clinic will have nowhere else to go. “You know, Planned Parenthood clinics see 64% of the patients statewide that receive Title X funds. We are only 21% of the locations that get Title X funds so we see most of the locations but we are about only 20% of the locations.”
Planned Parenthood is encouraging political action. It is hoping low income people who used to rely on the organization but cannot afford or access key healthcare services now will make their voices heard at the polls in November 2020.