By Teodora Marinescu and Katie Carpenter
With the Trump administration’s efforts to restrict funding, Planned Parenthood has found itself again at the center of the heated, ongoing pro-life versus pro-choice debate.
While Illinois is considered to be a safe-haven for reproductive rights, conservative politicians have recently pushed for the defunding of this organization, which could affect the access to reproductive health care of over 50,000 patients.
Moreover, according to the Chicago Tribune, individuals from other states turn to Illinois for better access to reproductive health services so they would also be affected. In 2017, around 5,500 patients traveled to Illinois for access to abortions.
In large part, the pressure to defund the organization comes from the common misconception that Planned Parenthood of Illinois is just an abortion agency. However, according to the their annual report, in 2018 abortion procedures only accounted for 3.4 percent of the services requested. Meanwhile, health-related treatments such as STI testing and contraceptive prescriptions account for 48.65 percent. and 27.05 percent, respectively.
“I went in for an STD check and an overall wellness check on my sexual health,” said Anthony Joseph, a former patient when asked why he visited Planned Parenthood. “I wanted to make sure that everything was ok.”
This chart illustrates a breakdown of the services provided by Planned Parenthood between 2017-2018:
Another common misconception about the organization is that is that their services are only for women. Although the majority of patients are female, many of the Planned Parenthood health centers offer additional services for the 10% of their patients that are male. These services include cancer screenings, vasectomies, infertility screenings and referrals, erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation support, urinary tract infection testing and treatment, physical exams, treatment for other conditions, and referrals.
Before Joseph had visited the reproductive health clinic for the first time he had the false impression that their services did not include men’s sexual health.
“I thought that it was only a place for women to seek out services regarding sexual health,” he said.
There are currently 17 Planned Parenthood clinics in Illinois and they all provide a wide array of services, ranging from abortion services to gender affirming hormone therapy, to vaccines. Tests and preventive care services represent a significant part of Planned Parenthood’s mission and if discontinued, there would be a significant rise of disease transmission as examples from other states have shown.
The following map shows the locations of Planned Parenthood clinics in Illinois:
Julie Lynn, manager of external affairs at Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said that when Planned Parenthood was defunded in Indiana in 2013 “there was an HIV outbreak because people didn’t have anywhere else to go in a rural community to get tests.”
In Illinois, a majority of 60 percent of patients come from low income families and are insured by Medicaid. According to Lynn, preventing them from visiting Planned Parenthood would lead to a major health crisis, as these patients would lose access to important services cancer preventive screenings, STI treatments, and miscarriage care.
“Anytime access to comprehensive affordable healthcare is taken away it has a devastating impact on the people who can no longer get the care they need. It’s not just about women’s healthcare,” Lynn said.
Lynn explains that defunding Planned Parenthood would block patients who rely on Medicaid and other public health care funds from coming to Planned Parenthood and receiving the affordable help they need. Lynn states that the term “defunding” is used misleadingly by politicians.
“Planned Parenthood does not actually receive direct funding from the government,” she said. “The funding comes from reimbursements from Medicaid that Planned Parenthood receives after a patient uses Medicaid to cover their services.”
Planned Parenthood is a valuable option for individuals who may not have health insurance and otherwise would not seek these healthcare services. UIC student and Planned Parenthood patient Claudia Flores — who also writes for this publication — said she relies on Planned Parenthood for her yearly screenings and birth control prescription.
“I first started going to Planned Parenthood because I didn’t have health insurance,” she said. “They helped me with the services I needed at a reduction of the cost of a traditional doctor’s office.”
Impressed by the professionalism and quality of care provided, Flores decided to remain a patient even after she got health insurance.
“I still kept going because of how fast their availability for appointments is and because I always have a positive experience. They are very caring and they provide a lot of information and options,” she said.
“I think defunding and shutting down Planned Parenthood clinics in Illinois will have a drastic effect on everyone; women, minorities, low-income communities.