Planned Parenthood’s logo—two Ps, one on top of the other—conjures for me the leaves of a tree. The top one, standing for “Planned,” looks mature. The “P” underneath, standing for “Parenthood,” is nascent, as if reliant upon its mama. The tagline below, “Care. No matter what,” carries many meanings. Care about women’s health, care about women’s pride and choice, no matter their social, racial or economic standing.
It’s a genius message. There are interpretations for both adherents and detractors: Inclusivity to its followers and an act of provocation to its opponents.
The current battle to defund Planned Parenthood, led by a legion of mostly white Republican men in the House, threatens to take away cheap, accessible, and necessary health care for poor black and brown women. The House’s vote on Friday to block federal funding for Planned Parenthood was just political grandstanding, but it brings forth a serious question: For whom is the Republican Party advocating? Or to put it another way: Which Americans don’t matter to them?
Planned Parenthood services a segment of America’s population that looks little like Scarlett Johansson and Lena Dunham, two of the organization’s celebrity proponents. According to its website, 79 percent of clients live at or below the poverty line. And blacks and Latinos are overrepresented at 14 and 22 percent, respectively, of all Planned Parenthood clients.
"Planned Parenthood is often the primary health care provider for Latinos and African Americans in this country,” said Lori Adelman, Associate Director of Global Communications at Planned Parenthood. “This may be a political talking point for some, but for the Latino and African American women, men, and young people we serve, it’s literally a matter of their well-being."
Already, black women are are getting the shaft when it comes to health care, President Obama noted in a speech to the Congressional Black Caucus’ Foundation gala Saturday. “[Black women] often don’t get the same quality health care that they need and have higher rates of chronic diseases,” Obama said.
The president is correct. Breast cancer, the second most common type of cancer in women, is the second deadliest among black women. In fact, black women are more likely to die from breast cancer at every age than non-Hispanic white women.
The reason lies in limited access to health care and high rates of poverty. “Later stage at diagnosis among African American women has been largely attributed to lower frequency of and longer intervals between mammograms, and lack of timely follow-up of suspicious results,” according to the American Cancer Society. ”Lower stage-specific survival has been explained in part by unequal receipt of prompt, high-quality treatment among African American women compared to white women.”
Black women, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), are almost five times as likely to have an abortion than white women. “African American and Latina women have higher unintended pregnancy rates, which is why they have higher abortion rates than white women,” said Elizabeth Nash, state policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit organization that works to advance reproductive health. “And the idea [for having Planned Parenthood] is: if it’s easier to access family planning services you’re less likely to need abortion services.”
Black women are also contracting HIV at a rate 20 times higher than their white counterparts, according to the CDC. There were 6,100 black women who contracted HIV in 2010, accounting for 29 percent of the estimated new HIV infections among all adult and adolescent African Americans. African Americans overall accounted for 44 percent of new HIV cases in 2010, a number when compared with the American black population, 13 percent, is staggering.
Planned Parenthood provides sexual and reproductive health care services. Abortions account for 3% of those services, according to Planned Parenthood. Dwarfing all other services, the organization provided sexually transmitted infection/disease testing and treatment to nearly 4.5 million patients in 2013. The organization screened 935,573 Americans for cancer. Without access to Planned Parenthood, black and brown women stand to lose what little access they have to these services. A cutoff in funding would put an unmanageable strain on community health centers and other providers, advocates say.
“If these funds are eliminated or they don’t go to Planned Parenthood anymore, there’s going to be a huge impact,” said Nash. “We’ve done calculations on how many abortions are averted by family planning and it’s huge.” According to Guttmacher, without publicly funded family planning services from centers like Planned Parenthood, the number of unintended pregnancies, unplanned births and abortions among women would have been 42 percent higher in 2013.
The mainstream understanding of the Black Lives Matter movement is that it’s combatting the shooting deaths of young black men and women by law enforcement. But the GOP’s response to Planned Parenthood creates another battlefield: the systematic hijacking of black women’s health, the systematic erasure of black and brown women’s lives. Their literal lives and the lives of their future children.
Collier Meyerson is a reporter at Fusion with a focus on race and politics. She lives in Brooklyn.