Planned Parenthood wins federal funds to replace money cut by GOP-led legislature

cjarvis@newsobserver.comJuly 25, 2012 

— One of the battles won by the conservatives who took over the state legislature this session was stripping Planned Parenthood of its funding.

But it is turning out to be a short-lived victory. The women’s health organization has successfully applied for federal funds and will soon receive more than three times the amount Republican lawmakers had withheld.

“We’ve weathered these increasing attacks on women’s health care access the past couple of years,” Paige Johnson, vice president of external and governmental affairs for Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina, said Tuesday. “Now we’re able to do more for our patients.”

The GOP strategy to defund Planned Parenthood would be considered more symbolic – by law, federal money can’t be used for abortions – than substantial if it wasn’t for its direct impact on the women’s health clinic in Durham.

The amount legislators cut, $125,000, was a sliver of the $20.2 billion state budget, but losing it meant that Planned Parenthood’s clinic in North Durham would have to close. That clinic doesn’t handle abortions; it provides contraceptives, pap smears and breast exams and does testing for diabetes, high cholesterol and sexually transmitted diseases.

Now, with $426,000 in what is known as Title X funding, the Durham clinic expects to see a four-fold increase in patients, to about 2,000 a year, said Emily Adams, vice president of operations. Adams said the funding dispute was a close call.

“We have patients who have been coming to us for over a decade,” Adams said. “When they turned to us and we didn’t have sure resources, that’s where it really hits.”

Amanda Ann Goodwin, 55, of Durham is a former childbirth coach who says she has been going to Planned Parenthood clinics since she was young. She said she has come to trust the brand, especially because it emphasizes education.

“The politics is about abortion, but women still need women’s health care,” Goodwin said. “If you cut that aspect off – especially now when people can’t afford insurance – if you cut that off, you’re not only cutting off a particular service, you’re cutting off the education. That’s frightening.”

The extra money will allow the clinic to expand its programs to help men and to educate teenagers to delay having sex or teach safeguards to those already having sex.

Republican reaction

Republican legislators had said women could go to county health departments instead. But first-time patients often have to wait at county clinics at least a couple of weeks and as long as a few months to get in, Johnson said.

Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Republican from Cary and key budget-writer, said legislators had a tough job maintaining services while coming up with a plan that forces the state to live within its means. He said Planned Parenthood probably wouldn’t need tax money if it used its political advocacy budget to provide services. The advocacy group, Planned Parenthood Action Fund of Central N.C., is a separate legal entity.

“It’s indicative of the federal government playing politics with taxpayer money,” Dollar said. “… The fact that Planned Parenthood has been given additional money from the Obama administration sort of fits with the politics of the administration.”

Since 2001, the Planned Parenthood affiliate has received grants and contracts with Title X money through the state Department of Health and Human Services. That funding has kept the Durham clinic in operation.

Then in June 2011, the General Assembly approved a budget provision that singled out Planned Parenthood as ineligible to receive funding administered by the state. Planned Parenthood sued in federal court and in August a federal judge ordered the state to honor its contract with the organization pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

This year, lawmakers passed a budget bill that prohibits state contracts for family planning or pregnancy prevention services. Although not named in the budget provision, Planned Parenthood is the only private entity fitting that description.

On June 28, U.S. District Court Judge James A. Beaty Jr. ruled against the state, finding the 2011 budget provision unconstitutional on several grounds. But that ruling didn’t address this year’s budget bill, which went into effect July 1.

Planned Parenthood decided to apply directly for the federal funds as the organization has done in other states. More than 4,500 clinics use Title X money to provide family planning across the country, covering at least three quarters of all the counties in the United States. It has been in existence for 40 years.

Conservatives in the U.S. House of Representatives tried to eliminate all funding for Title X earlier this year, and would have disqualified all Planned Parenthood affiliates from receiving any federal funds. The issue contributed to the budget standoff between the House conservatives and the Senate Democrats and the Obama administration, but the program ultimately survived.

Lawsuit abandoned

Planned Parenthood of Central N.C. found out recently that it had received the full amount it applied for. As a result, it has decided to drop its federal lawsuit, which it could have pursued on the argument that legislators were intentionally subverting the judge’s order with this year’s budget provision.

“We’d much rather focus on expanding care for our patients than litigating,” Johnson said. “All of our fight has been about defending patient care.”

Jarvis: 919-829-4576