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Planned Parenthood fills health care vacuum


The fortysomething woman had come to a Planned Parenthood clinic seeking help with her advancing breast cancer, which she had tried to treat herself for more than a year.

She explained to the nurse who examined her that she had been using herbal remedies because she had no health insurance. The manager of the clinic provided a referral to an oncologist who accepts uninsured patients under a grant that Planned Parenthood obtained to assist women in such situations. Though it was probably too late to save her breast, much less her life, the woman expressed her gratitude with tears.

This is the kind of woman the governor of Missouri will hurt by cutting state funding to a Planned Parenthood program that provided free breast and cervical cancer screenings. When Gov. Matt Blunt announced the funding cuts in March, he said he did it because "patients should not have to go to an abortion clinic to access lifesaving tests."

While it is true that the pro-choice organization that operates those clinics does provide pregnancy counseling services to women, some of whom may seek abortions, Planned Parenthood also has become the primary source of health care for many women who do not have insurance. And women are more likely than men to lack health insurance coverage, a situation that leads many of them to forgo preventive care and early intervention.

The Washington-based Kaiser Family Foundation reported that 20% of women between the ages of 18 and 64 are uninsured. Researchers at the National Women's Law Center also found that, because women have greater health care needs and lower incomes than men, even many women who do have coverage cannot afford their copayments or deductibles.

As the government wrings its hands over whether to reform the nation's health care system, Planned Parenthood has stepped in to fill the gap by providing gynecological health care services to millions of uninsured and underinsured women across the nation.

In addition to birth control services, Planned Parenthood clinics also offer prenatal care, cervical cancer screenings, mammogram referrals, pregnancy tests, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and urinary tract infections, HPV vaccinations and even fertility counseling.

The clinics also serve men, many of whom are also uninsured and come to Planned Parenthood for testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS.

Planned Parenthood, as its name states, is not just in the business of preventing or ending pregnancies; it's also in the business of working to ensure that all pregnancies are planned, and that women and men receive quality medical care to safeguard their reproductive health.

I know. I serve as a volunteer in one of those clinics. And the clinic where I work, like those to which Gov. Blunt cut funding in Missouri, does not perform abortions. In fact, nationally, less than 7% of Planned Parenthood's funding goes to abortion services, and most clinics provide only counseling and referrals--the same service that is provided by many doctors.

When Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood 90 years ago to teach women about contraception, it was her dream that abortions would one day become obsolete. Ms. Sanger opened the first family planning clinic at a time when federal and state laws prohibited the use of birth control because it was thought to promote lewd behavior. Because of those antiobscenity laws, many women, unable to prevent pregnancies, chose instead to terminate them, and usually by some primitive and dangerous means.

It's been said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. It is my fear that actions by amnesic politicians like Gov. Blunt will further erode women's access to lifesaving health care services and perhaps even restore the conditions that led to those insidious back-alley abortions.