Serving the city of West Hollywood as an elected official is an honor for me, not only because of the issues I get to work on with members of my community but also because of the ways we think beyond our borders, taking bold stances that speak to our core values. For example, in 1991, West Hollywood was declared a Pro-Choice City — the first in the United States. The City Council vowed that West Hollywood would protect and defend a full range of health care options for women and girls. The commitment of our local government is critically important to Planned Parenthood, which decided to open a health center in West Hollywood during my tenure as mayor.
On November 27, 2015, a domestic terrorist opened fire on the Planned Parenthood health center in Colorado Springs, killing three people. The shooting struck fear into the hearts of many who worked at and were served by Planned Parenthood health centers throughout the country. Sue Dunlap, the courageous executive director of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, and her entire team were faced with a choice: Should they proceed as planned with the grand opening of a new facility in West Hollywood, knowing they would face potential security threats, or should they abandon their efforts, risking access to the care so many in our community desperately needed?
Their answer was resounding: These doors stay open.
Shortly after the opening, I represented our city at the U.S. Conference of Mayors. We had the opportunity to interact directly with President Obama. I asked him what he and his administration intended to do to keep safe and to support cities like mine that were home to Planned Parenthood health centers, which were facing both political and physical attacks. President Obama stated that his administration would stand strong with Planned Parenthood and all health care centers that provide access to the full range of services women and girls need.
Now that commitment is in jeopardy.
On January 5, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that congressional Republicans intend to defund Planned Parenthood as Part of a reconciliation bill. This measure would stop all funding from the federal government to Planned Parenthood for basic, doctor-recommended services such as pap smears and breast exams as well as access to HIV prevention medications used as pre-exposure and post-exposure prophylaxis. (Abortion services have been prohibited from receiving federal funding since the 1970s.) This announcement was devastating to Planned Parenthood service providers and patients, who fear they will have no place to go to receive essential services.
Cervical, ovarian, and breast cancer screenings are a significant part of the services that Planned Parenthood provides. Pelvic exams, treatments for STDs, Pap smears, and HPV tests help keep sexually active people safe and healthy. Women who are not ready to have a child can receive access to birth control or emergency contraception, while those who are ready for pregnancy can receive prenatal care. Men can receive testicular cancer screenings and vasectomies. Additionally, Planned Parenthood centers can provide anemia testing, cholesterol and diabetes screenings, flu vaccines, and physical exams. These kinds of services account for 97 percent of Planned Parenthood’s work.
West Hollywood is a unique center that is specifically designed to not only provide the highest quality of patient care but also to train medical students from some of Los Angeles’s most highly regarded medical institutions. This is largely because our city and our community are committed to serving the patients who need care today as well as being here for the next generation of women.
Currently, federal funds account for almost half of Planned Parenthood’s budget nationwide. In California, about 80 percent of Planned Parenthood affiliates’ operating budgets rely on federal funding. California will be hit the hardest by defunding precisely because affiliates here have built the infrastructure to support access. Approximately one third of all Planned Parenthood visits funded by Medicaid across the country take place in California. As the state that has been the most progressive in advancing women’s health, we now stand to lose the most.
Contrary to Republican rhetoric, the federal government does not write a blank check to Planned Parenthood for discretionary spending. These funds are provided in the form of reimbursements for services rendered (mostly through Medicaid) or family planning service grants.
For example: a low-income patient covered by Medicaid can receive a breast exam at Planned Parenthood, which then bills Medicaid for its services. Today, that bill to Medicaid would be paid with government funds. Losing this funding means low-income people who are currently served by Planned Parenthood will no longer have access to safe, competent, culturally sensitive health care services in their communities. And in a state like California that has an exceptionally low reimbursement rate, safety-net providers like Planned Parenthood operate on very thin margins and are already struggling to provide care for the low-income women who rely on them.
It is not just the diverse communities in West Hollywood and throughout our state who will feel the impact of decisions made by our elected officials. Women around the world are worried about what the election means for them. To fight for the world that we want, we have to defend access to reproductive health care for all, no matter who they are or where they live.
Defunding Planned Parenthood is unconscionable. Women and girls cannot risk STDs, cancer, forced pregnancy, or maternal death simply because Republicans want to flex political muscle. Low-income people — who are working harder than ever and still struggling to make ends meet — need more support and more care from our federal government, not less.
In the face of such adversity, I know that Planned Parenthood will do all it can to continue providing health care to the most vulnerable among us. But we must also do all we can to make sure that the House reconciliation bill does not defund vital services.
Contact your elected officials here and let them know you want them to stand with Planned Parenthood.