A dozen Republicans in the Kentucky House have pre-filed a bill for the 2016 General Assembly to end state funding for women's health services at Planned Parenthood clinics in Lexington and Louisville, which this fiscal year totaled $331,309.
The bill's primary sponsor, Rep. Lynn Bechler, R-Marion, said he and his colleagues oppose abortion and were upset by disputed undercover videos of Planned Parenthood employees in other states discussing the distribution of aborted fetal tissue to researchers. None of Kentucky's Planned Parenthood clinics performs abortions, but the bill would block funding to health clinics that offer abortion "referrals" or "consulting," and the Kentucky clinics do that.
Any money that goes to a Planned Parenthood affiliate could be an indirect subsidy for abortions somewhere, Bechler said Monday.
"It all comes back to money going to an organization that supports abortion and the harvesting of body parts — or baby parts — which I think is just abhorrent," Bechler said. "And I don't think that I'm the only one. A lot of people feel the same way, including some who don't necessarily consider themselves pro-life."
The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services said the money at stake comes from a $5.4 million federal grant for Title X family planning and related health services for low-income or uninsured patients — mostly, but not entirely, women. The state forwards the money to county health departments to cover birth control, pregnancy testing and counseling, examinations for sexually transmitted diseases, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and other health care. By federal law, Title X funds cannot pay for abortions.
The health departments in Fayette and Jefferson counties have contracts with local Planned Parenthood clinics to help provide Title X services using the money, said Jill Midkiff, a spokeswoman for the cabinet.
Eliminating funding that pays for women's health services is unfair to the clinics' patients and counterproductive for people who say they oppose abortion, said Betty Cockrum, president of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky. Last year, the Lexington clinic helped 1,345 patients, and the Louisville clinic helped 3,378, Cockrum said.
"If you unplug birth control for 5,000 patients, it's going to have a big impact. There's no doubt that the rate of abortion is driven by the rate of unintended pregnancies," Cockrum said. "We're very clear that it would be taking public health policy in the wrong direction for the state of Kentucky and its residents."
In July, an anti-abortion group in California, the Center for Medical Progress, began releasing a series of secretly recorded videos of Planned Parenthood employees discussing fetal tissue to be used for research, sometimes in graphic detail.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America said the videos were heavily edited and distorted to misrepresent what was being said. But Republicans in Congress and some states — including Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas and Utah — have seized on the videos to attack Planned Parenthood's public funding.
It's not clear whether such efforts, if successful, would survive a legal challenge.
The Indiana legislature voted in 2011 to make Planned Parenthood clinics ineligible for state Medi caid money. After the clinics sued, the state's attempt was blocked by a federal district judge and the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. The courts ruled that a state may refuse to pay for abortions, but it may not single out a qualified medical provider because it performs abortions and use that as a reason to strip it of public funding.
"The defunding law excludes Planned Parenthood from Medicaid for a reason unrelated to its fitness to provide medical services, violating its patients' statutory right to obtain medical care from the qualified provider of their choice," Judge Diane Sykes wrote for the Court of Appeals.
Bechler, the Kentucky lawmaker, said he doesn't intend to leave women in Lexington and Louisville without access to health services. In each county, the health department splits its Title X funding. In Fayette County, for example, the public health department, Planned Parenthood and Bluegrass Community Health Center share in the work for a total of $215,780 in Title X money, according to the cabinet. The other agencies can step in, Bechler said.
"This bill does absolutely nothing to take away money for women's services. It just says where they can do it," he said.
But Cockrum said the cities' Planned Parenthood clinics deliberately are located on public bus lines, offer extended evening and Saturday hours for working women, accept new Medicaid patients, and raise money privately to provide charitable financial assistance for those who need it.
"There aren't other health care providers who are prepared to step up and provide these services," Cockrum said.