The Senate will vote on a measure to defund Planned Parenthood before its August recess, according to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. "Next week, every member of this party will have a chance to join us in reaffirming the Senate's commitment to genuine compassion and to women's health," McConnell said Wednesday. "We introduced legislation last night that would ensure taxpayer dollars for women's health are spent on women's health, not a scandal plagued political lobbying giant. It's a simple choice: senators can either vote to protect women's health or they can vote to protect subsidies for a political group mired in scandal."
Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst filed the bill on Tuesday night. The proposal would eliminate all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, but the funding would "continue to be made available to other eligible entities to provide women’s health care services."
State and county health departments, community health centers, hospitals, physicians offices, and other entities currently provide, and will continue to provide, health services to women. Such health services include relevant diagnostic laboratory and radiology services, well-child care, prenatal and postpartum care, immunization, family planning services including contraception, sexually transmitted disease testing, cervical and breast cancer screenings, and referrals.
It can be tempting to look away from the political spectacle unfolding around the release of videos purporting to show Planned Parenthood staff involved in the illegal sale of fetal tissue. Republican posturing around Planned Parenthood is nothing new, and the footage is just the most recent excuse being offered to cut millions of dollars in funding from the organization. But even if the measure fails, the effort isn't political theater: it's the GOP acting on its political priorities. In response to the bill, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, one of several Republican presidential candidates to call for the defunding of Planned Parenthood, called the vote "a huge victory for conservatives" who oppose abortion.
Here's what that "huge victory for conservatives" would look like for people who get birth control, STI tests, pap smears, cancer screenings, and other preventative care from the organization's clinics: Planned Parenthood's affiliate clinics, around 700 nationally, see approximately 2.7 million patients every year.
In Iowa, Joni Ernst's home state, there are 13 Planned Parenthood affiliate health centers. If the bill passed, Planned Parenthood of the Heartland—which oversees clinics in Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, and eastern Oklahoma—would lose all federal dollars.
These clinics saw 59,989 patients in 2014, according to the organization's most recent annual report. More than half of those patients were at or below the federal poverty line. Contraception accounted for 45 percent of services provided by the clinics while STI screenings accounted for nearly a third. Abortion, which Senate Republicans have fixated on in the push to defund Planned Parenthood despite the fact that the Hyde Amendment bans federal funding for abortion, accounted for 2 percent of services provided. (Nine of the 13 Planned Parenthood affiliate clinics in Iowa provide abortion services. According to data from the Guttmacher Institute, 85 percent of Iowa counties had no abortion clinic, and 50 percent of Iowa women lived in these counties.)
Ernst, like her Senate colleagues, has marketed the bill to strip funding for these services as a proposal to protect women's health and access to health services, but Senate Democrats have signaled they'll fight the bill on the same grounds.
“I am furious that Republicans are once again trying to take away basic health care services for 2.7 million women,” said Washington Sen. Patty Murray. “We have stood strong before that we are going to make sure that women in this country have health care available; Planned Parenthood provides it. For Republicans to take it away is wrong.
In response to the Republican push, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid offered a simple: "Good luck."
If the measure passes—or if Republicans find another reason to target Planned Parenthood—women in Iowa, and across the country, will need it.