Politics & Government

Kentucky Senate panel moves to cut Planned Parenthood funds

Derek Selznick, director of the Kentucky ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, and Ashlee Bergin, a Louisville obstetrician-gynecologist, told a Senate committee that Senate Bill 7 is “bad medicine” on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016.
Derek Selznick, director of the Kentucky ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project, and Ashlee Bergin, a Louisville obstetrician-gynecologist, told a Senate committee that Senate Bill 7 is “bad medicine” on Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016. jcheves@herald-leader.com

A Senate committee overwhelmingly approved a bill Thursday intended to end state funding for family planning and women’s health services at Planned Parenthood clinics in Lexington and Louisville, which this fiscal year totaled $331,309.

Republican Sen. Max Wise of Campbellsville, sponsor of Senate Bill 7, said he was moved to act by “Planned Parenthood’s notorious history as an abortion provider.” None of Kentucky’s Planned Parenthood clinics provide abortions. But Wise’s bill seeks to block funding to clinics that offer abortion “referrals” or “counseling,” as Planned Parenthood does in the state.

Wise cited last year’s undercover videos — the accuracy of which has been disputed — of Planned Parenthood employees in other states discussing the distribution of aborted fetal tissue to researchers.

“Congress passed legislation to defund Planned Parenthood,” Wise told the Senate Committee on Veterans, Military Affairs and Public Protection. “Unfortunately, President Obama vetoed this bill. Until we have a pro-life president, individual states are having to find ways to restrict the flow of public funds to this organization.”

SB 7 proceeds to the Republican-led Senate, which is expected to pass it. The Democratic-led House traditionally has blocked bills that would restrict women’s access to abortion. House Speaker Greg Stumbo, D-Prestonsburg, said Thursday that he has not reviewed Wise’s bill or a similar bill filed by House Republicans, so he had no comment.

Critics warned Thursday that Wise’s bill could imperil the $5.6 million the federal government gives to Kentucky annually in “Title X funds” for family planning and women’s health services at local health departments and other health clinics. The two Planned Parenthood clinics in Lexington and Louisville share in that funding.

Federal law requires that pregnant women served by Title X funds have the opportunity to hear medical information about abortion, including the “risks and benefits.” Other Title X services include birth control, pregnancy testing and counseling, examinations for sexually transmitted diseases and breast and cervical cancer screening.

Cutting Title X programs for low-income women to spite Planned Parenthood would lead to more unintended pregnancies in Kentucky, among many other health problems, said Derek Selznick, director of the Kentucky ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project.

“Essentially, they want to take away funds that prevent 6,000 abortions a year,” Selznick said.

Ashlee Bergin, a Louisville obstetrician-gynecologist, told the Senate committee that SB 7 is “bad medicine.”

“The legislature must not interfere with the doctor-patient relationship by dictating what health care information can be shared,” Bergin said. “My patients must be able to make medical decisions with knowledge of all options, and based on what’s right for themselves and their families.”

As originally written, Wise’s bill would prohibit public money from going to any entity that offers “referrals to or information about facilities where abortions are performed or individuals who perform abortions.”

But legislative staffers recently warned Wise that such a blanket prohibition could affect all health clinics and mean the loss of Title X funds.

So Wise tried a more targeted approach in the amended version of SB 7 that was approved by the committee. His rewritten bill would establish a three-tiered system for the state to fund family planning services, with the first funding priority to be public health departments; the second funding priority to be nonpublic clinics that provide comprehensive primary and preventive health services; and the third funding priority — if any money remains — to be Planned Parenthood.

After Thursday’s Senate hearing, Wise told reporters he borrowed his three-tier system from similar models in Texas, Kansas and Ohio. The bill does not expressly forbid funding for Planned Parenthood, to avoid the loss of Title X funds, but the effect should be the same once the budget is decided by lawmakers, Wise said.

“This would hopefully cut them (Planned Parenthood) off,” Wise said. “We’ve got a state and we’ve got a large group of constituents that want something done with Planned Parenthood.”

The same Senate committee also voted Thursday to approve Senate Bill 25, which would remove an exemption in the state’s Uniform Anatomical Gift Act in order to prevent the sale of tissue from aborted fetuses. Wise also sponsored SB 25.

Before the vote, Sen. Perry Clark, D-Louisville, asked Wise, “This isn’t going on currently in this state, though, is it?”

“Not that we’re aware of,” Wise replied. “So that’s why we want to put this into legislation.”

Clark cast the committee’s only “No” vote against both bills.

John Cheves: 859-231-3266, @BGPolitics

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