Guest Commentary

Planned Parenthood is about comprehensive health care, not just access to abortion

Planned Parenthood disputes Missouri’s new medication abortion law

Both sides of the abortion issue are awaiting a ruling on whether Missouri can continue to enforce a new law that places tighter regulations on medication-induced abortion.
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Both sides of the abortion issue are awaiting a ruling on whether Missouri can continue to enforce a new law that places tighter regulations on medication-induced abortion.

To say we are in a state of emergency for sexual and reproductive health care is an understatement. Look at the headlines about soaring syphilis rates in the Kansas City metro area, or the 13 Missouri counties on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s watchlist for outbreaks of HIV or hepatitis, or Missouri’s abysmal maternal mortality rate, which is 50% higher than the rest of the U.S.

Sexually transmitted infections are at a record high in the U.S. for the fourth year in a row. In light of this resurgence, the CDC has resorted to offering rudimentary sex education, where they have to inform young Americans that reusing condoms is unsafe.

These problems are widespread and worrisome, and they ultimately stem from a continued lack of access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health care and education.

In recent weeks, the nation’s attention has focused on the battle raging in St. Louis over the licensing of our state’s last remaining health center providing abortion care. Missourians of reproductive age already have the least access to abortion of any state in the country. The loss of abortion services inside our state lines would accelerate the dangerous decline of our state’s public health status. On May 31, a St. Louis judge granted a temporary restraining order, protecting access to abortion in Missouri — but for how long remains unclear.

While we fight to protect access to abortion, we can’t lose sight of the fact that Missouri lacks sufficient access to all kinds of sexual and reproductive health care.

The same Missouri legislators racing to upend Roe v. Wade with a clearly unconstitutional abortion ban refuse to pass laws that would improve sex education and expand access to birth control. These are also the politicians crusading to “defund” Planned Parenthood in the state’s budget — an unprecedented attempt to block patients from accessing vital preventive health care.

Planned Parenthood Great Plains filed a legal challenge over the defunding measure — which Gov. Mike Parson signed last year and is poised to sign again — because it essentially forces Planned Parenthood to provide care to Medicaid patients without reimbursement.

Last year, Planned Parenthood Great Plains and Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri provided critical services to more than 7,600 patients covered by MO HealthNet, Missouri’s managed care organizations and the state’s Extended Women’s Health Services program. Our health centers provide cancer screenings, well-woman exams, family planning care, and sexually transmitted infection and HIV testing, prevention and treatment for patients who depend on publicly funded insurance — yet Parson is the first governor to block routine reimbursements for these Missourians’ care.

Our legal challenge is before a judge in Jackson County. Our ultimate goal is to continue providing essential care, in partnership with the state, for all those who need it.

Planned Parenthood’s 11 health centers, including four in the Kansas City area, are an irreplaceable part of our state’s public health infrastructure. A study found that apart from Planned Parenthood, only 7% of more than 600 safety net health centers in Missouri offer accessible and comprehensive family planning care.

Politicians must stop their dangerous race to make Missouri the most extreme state in the country. Missouri’s health care safety net is already stretched too thin: Some counties are facing a 1,000% increase in syphilis, and both HIV and hepatitis C rates are growing in rural counties.

We can’t afford to play politics with our state’s health and well-being.

The full range of sexual and reproductive health services Planned Parenthood offers have never been more important. No matter what, we remain committed to serving patients across the state and working alongside public health partners to address the many challenges facing Missouri.

Brandon J. Hill is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Great Plains.