Family planning in island communities

Mt. Baker Planned Parenthood Executive Director Linda McCarthy spoke to an audience of six at the Eastsound Fire Station on Friday, Sept. 22 about the services the organization provides in Whatcom, Skagit and San Juan counties.

McCarthy’s visit was discussion number five in a health care series presented by Our Revolution San Juan County.

“One in five people have been a patient of Planned Parenthood,” said McCarthy. “It’s our mission to serve people who need us, and folks who need us often, the most, are the people who have little access.”

According to a 2010 study by Washington state, 55.6 percent of pregnancies were unintended. McCarthy said that of the 223 patients Planned Parenthood’s office on San Juan Island saw last year, contraceptives provided by the organization prevented 54 unintended pregnancies.

Statistically, McCarthy said that nine of those unintended pregnancies would have been births to women 18 and younger; 14 would have been births to women 20 and older; 10 would have been abortions to the women under 19; 14 would have been abortions for women over 20; four possible miscarriages under 19; and four possible miscarriages over women over 20.

Other services Planned Parenthood provides are pap smears, cancer screenings and HIV and STD testing.

All of the PP services would be impacted if the Affordable Care Act repeal efforts that President Donald Trump has called for occur. The repeal and replace bills proposed include a section that prohibits Medicaid funding to any organization that is primarily engaged in family planning, reproductive health, provides abortions (for reasons other than in cases of rape or incest or are medically necessary) and which receives more than $350 million in Medicaid reimbursement.

“The only organization in America that fits that definition is Planned Parenthood. So they don’t have to put our name in there, they just have to put that in there and it would be us,” said McCarthy. “They’re talking about stopping patients who come to us who have Medicaid funding, which would be an enormous hardship on both our patients and us because there’s nobody else to pick up that. It’s just wrong. We’re playing politics with people’s health. We’re playing politics with people’s lives, and we’re playing politics with the future that children are born into. And that’s just wrong.”

So far, no health care alternative has been successful in repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, with the most recent attempt being withdrawn before even going to vote by Congress.

Without Medicaid reimbursements, McCarthy said 70 percent of Mt. Baker Planned Parenthood’s clients at each of its facilities would have to seek their health care elsewhere, and there is a misconception that community health clinics could provide family planning services instead.

“We have great partnerships with all of the community health centers. But quite frankly, the community health centers are – especially since the Affordable Care Act – are so busy dealing with people [who] haven’t had health care for a long time … they’re still dealing with them, never mind trying to think about family planning,” said McCarthy.

“We cannot let the government not fund Planned Parenthood. Because of our cancer screening services, they actually save lives. Our education and honest answers to people empower people to make healthy choices,” said McCarthy. “I think everybody in America should have the right to decide what their dreams are and they should not have an unintended pregnancy shift them off of their dreams. Hopefully having reliable contraception can help them … When you control and have access to what you need … you get to choose when you want to have a child.”