Why Planned Parenthood funding is more important than you think

1 in 5 women has visited Planned Parenthood at least once in her life. Donations to Planned Parenthood affiliates in Texas tripled after Election Day. Many donors fear that a Trump presidency will strip Planned Parenthood of funding and limit the provision of reproductive health services to women. People are quick to equate Planned Parenthood with abortion, but the conversation should be much broader. Family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood provide affordable services for women that improve a wide-range of maternal health outcomes.

Maternal mortality – defined as the death of a women while pregnant or within 42 days of the end of pregnancy – is an important indicator of women’s health outcomes in a country. The US is one of the few countries worldwide that experienced an increase in maternal mortality between 2000 and 2015. Because family planning clinics provide prenatal services to women that reduce the risks of pregnancy, they are important combatants of these negative trends.

A recent report in the Obstetrics & Gynecology analyzes these trends. They find a doubling of maternal mortality rates in Texas during the period coinciding with the state’s dramatic reduction in funding to family planning clinics in 2011 and 2013. Between 2010 and 2012, the adjusted maternal mortality rate in Texas increased from 18.6 deaths per 1000 live births per year to almost 40. Though the maternal mortality rate dropped slightly below 35 by 2014, it remained much higher than maternal mortality rates before the reduction of funding to family planning clinics.

The report indicates that governmental funding cuts to family planning clinics – including those that offer abortions – significantly impact the health of all women. These clinics do not exist just to terminate pregnancies, but to also ensure that women are healthy before, during, and after pregnancies. In fact, abortion services account for only 3% of all services at Planned Parenthood clinics. Following the funding changes in Texas, 25% of family planning clinics closed and organizations provided these services to 54% fewer clients in fiscal year 2012-2013.

However, researchers cannot definitively say that the changes in funding caused the increases in maternal mortality. A report in the American Journal of Perinatology discusses that other factors, such as rising prevalence of chronic conditions among Texas women, may account for the rate changes. The negative discourse surrounding these family clinics in the Texas media may also have stigmatized family planning clinics and discouraged women from seeking needed prenatal care.

Either way, increasing maternal mortality in Texas demonstrates clear trends in women’s health in the US. Furthermore, these trends disproportionately impact minority women. In Texas, black women contributed to only 11.4% of all births, but comprised 28.8% of all maternal deaths. Since minority women are more likely to benefit from services provided by clinics such as Planned Parenthood, limiting funds and restricting services could exacerbate health inequities present in society.

While the current political conversation over the funding of Planned Parenthood and family planning clinics focuses on abortion rights, policy-makers must also consider the life of women and mothers in the US when making decisions about funding.

Allison Stolte is a second year Masters of Public Policy student at Duke University.

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