Planned Parenthood fight comes to N.C.

GOP legislators want to bar any state dealings with the health provider.

Staff WriterApril 15, 2011 

A week after funding for Planned Parenthood was a key sticking point in the congressional negotiations to avoid a federal government shutdown, Republican leaders in North Carolina are seeking to bar the state from granting any money to the organization.

The women's health provider gets $473,000 through state safety net programs aimed at preventing teen pregnancies and providing birth control to low-income women. Some of the money is also used to combat sexually transmitted diseases and to support classes in parenting skills for young mothers.

But Planned Parenthood also uses private resources to provide abortions, which has made it a frequent target for many on the right.

A one-sentence provision added to the draft GOP budget this week does not cut the money that goes to Planned Parenthood. It specifically bars the state from making any grants or entering into any contracts of any kind with that one organization.

Rep. Nelson Dollar, chairman of the House appropriation subcommittee for Health and Human Services, denied the provision has anything to do with the controversy over abortion.

"People are free to conjecture as they will," said Dollar, a Cary Republican. "There are a whole host of programs being reduced. Planned Parenthood is not unique."

Rep. Verla Insko, a Democrat from Chapel Hill, said it's unusual to single out one organization.

"I see this cut as really another assault on the poor," said Insko, who serves on the health appropriations subcommittee. "These are very reasonable and needed services. Planned Parenthood is a trusted provider, especially with low-income women."

Ninety percent of the state money that goes to the nonprofit provider originates from federal public health grants. By law, none of those funds can be used to provide abortions.

Funding for the private reproductive health provider was at the center of last week's tussle in Washington over reaching a budget compromise to avoid a federal government shutdown, with Republicans opposed to abortion calling for cutting off funding of the organization.

Melissa Reed, the vice president for public policy for Planned Parenthood Health Systems in North Carolina, said every state dollar spent with her organization saves taxpayers $4 by preventing pregnancies for women likely to rely on government services. Unplanned pregnancies are also a key driver of high school dropout rates among teen girls.

Planned Parenthood has nine clinics across the state, from Asheville to Wilmington. Reed said the organization provided services to about 25,000 North Carolina women and men last year.

Less than 4 percent of the organization's budget comes from state funds, while 96 percent comes through patient fees and private donations.

The state grants are often targeted to serve specific needs and communities. For example, a $32,000 grant goes to provide long-acting contraceptives to low-income women in Wake County. In Fayetteville, a $100,000 grant supports a teen pregnancy prevention program.

"We work very closely with local health departments, social workers, hospitals and other medical providers in the community," Reed said.

Dollar stressed that the GOP budget proposal, which is still in committee, includes $3.6 million in funding for other teen pregnancy prevention programs.

Rep. Deborah Ross, a Raleigh Democrat, was skeptical that the provision targeting Planned Parenthood has nothing to do with conservative opposition to the group.

She also questioned why anyone who wanted to reduce abortions would cut funding for an organization whose mission is to provide family planning and low-cost contraception.

"This is politically motivated," Ross said. "It's shameful. No state or federal money goes to abortion. Planned Parenthood actually helps prevent unplanned pregnancies."

michael.biesecker@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4698

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