Of the many specious arguments anti-choice groups have made about Planned Parenthood in recent months, one of their favorites is that defunding Planned Parenthood would have no consequences for women’s ability to access reproductive health care. They claim that there is a vast network of clinics with the capacity to absorb Planned Parenthood’s patients and give them the same quality of care. You can thank a coalition of anti-choice groups for publishing a map of the facilities where women could supposedly go that exposes just how shaky this claim is. And you can thank RH Reality Check for doing the digging that proves it’s a load of garbage:
A press release from the Alliance Defending Freedom claimed that the facilities listed on the map “typically offer the full range of women’s health services without all the scandal of Planned Parenthood.”
But in an investigation into the facilities, RH Reality Check has found that these “real choices” include hundreds of elementary, middle, and high schools; clinics that provide care for homeless people; nursing homes; pediatrics centers; and even the D.C. jail. RH Reality Check called and emailed hundreds of the facilities listed on the map, and discovered that many of their spokespeople were bewildered by the notion that women would be directed to their facilities for reproductive health services.
Living in the Bay Area, I am far more likely to be able to find an alternative option for reproductive health care than women in many other parts of the country. Even still, when I entered my address in the (not-terribly-user-friendly) map, it was rife with irrelevant recommendations. The closest option that popped up was Oakland Technical High School. Zooming out a bit more, my options included a children’s hospital, a middle school clinic, a community college clinic, and a facility that offers health care to the homeless. A lot of the links were to nonexistent websites. While I’m sure all of these facilities are doing important work, none of them is going to help someone in the general population who can’t go to Planned Parenthood for a pap smear or birth control. There were some private practice options that came up, but those aren’t always the most viable options for low-income or uninsured women.
If you’re not in a city, you’ll have even less luck. RH Reality Check talked to one of the elementary schools listed in a rural farming community in Tennessee:
Instead, the clinic is like many other elementary school nurse’s offices, where a full-time school nurse provides limited care to the 190 students in attendance.
The nurse primarily tends to the school’s one diabetic student, the principal, Jon Manning, told RH Reality Check in a phone interview. She can also treat scrapes, fevers, and headaches, although the district has a telemedicine program for more serious ailments.
Principal Manning described the school as “remote;” the nearest commercial district is nine miles away in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. If women need to make an appointment for a breast exam or a birth control prescription, Wearwood Elementary is certainly not the place to go.
“We just don’t have the equipment or the staff,” Principal Manning said, when asked if women from the community could make check-up appointments there. “What we have to offer really wouldn’t be feasible. One thing is, normally, we don’t allow strangers in during the school day for security reasons.”
What if the health care you need is an abortion? The FAQ on the site offers about the kind of answer you would expect [emphasis mine]:
The alternative centers on this map can, or already do, receive federal funds for women’s health care. As a matter of federal law, no federal funds can be used for abortion. So whether or not they perform abortions is not relevant to whether women can receive quality comprehensive health care at the alternate centers on this map.
The Alliance Defending Freedom and their allied groups apparently do not understand the meaning of the word “comprehensive.” To most reasonable people, that includes a medical procedure that is accessed by 1 in 3 women before the age of 45. But to these groups obsessed with defeating Planned Parenthood and controlling women’s bodies, abortion isn’t essential health care. It’s a hugely profitable business that is exploiting women–because everyone knows the quickest way to make a buck is to elbow your way through protesters to provide health care to low-income women while facing death threats and violence. It’s little wonder that some anti-choice activists fell for The Onion’s $8 billion abortionplex story.
Not only are they directing women to facilities that are legitimate health care providers but aren’t equipped to deal with their health care needs. If you click “Need Pregnancy Help?”, the site directs users to anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs). These ideologically-driven facilities (both licensed and unlicensed) will say or do just about anything to bully a woman into continuing a pregnancy. They spread medical misinformation, claiming that abortion causes breast cancer, infertility, mental health problems and even death. They lie about the efficacy of birth control and offer only abstinence-only sex education. They shame and humiliate women for their past and future choices. The documentary 12th & Delaware recorded a CPC “counselor” (who had authorized the recording) telling a pregnant woman that a baby might change her abusive boyfriend’s behavior.
This important research confirms what most of us have known for a long time: Planned Parenthood provides essential services that millions of women rely upon every year. They help keep women safe and healthy. That includes providing them with compassionate abortion care that they need and deserve.