The thrill of marching down Pennsylvania Avenue last Saturday with 500,000 other people for basic human rights for women spurred my memory of the first march for women's lives I ever attended. In 1989, I was a 21-year-old college student marching at a time when protestors were physically blockading women's health care clinics. Then, as now, I felt that we could change the world with the energy of the crowd.
What I now realize decades later is that change doesn't just come with marching, but with acting. And the need to act is urgent. Though individuals no longer blockade health center doors (but women seeking access to reproductive health services often face harassment), politicians here in Wisconsin, at the national level and in state legislatures around the country pass law after law that has the same effect -- to deny women access to life-saving health care. In the next several weeks, Paul Ryan will attempt to push through his bill to deny Medicaid patients the ability to seek birth control, cervical and breast cancer screenings and testing and treatment for STDs from Planned Parenthood. No abortion services are provided with public funds. Ryan's measure will not only deny 6,000 individuals from his own district access to Planned Parenthood, but 50,000 patients throughout our state.
The Republican talking point is that other providers will step in. But we need look no further than our own state to know that this is a lie. When Governor Scott Walker in his first budget denied all state funds to Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin (PPWI), five rural health care clinics in Shawano, Johnson Creek, Chippewa Falls, Fond du Lac and Beaver Dam closed, impacting thousands of Wisconsin women and men. No other provider stepped in to provide the critical health services no longer available in these communities. A recent Guardian article entitled "Healthcare without Planned Parenthood: Wisconsin and Texas point to dark future," details the devastating consequences, including spikes in sexually transmitted diseases, increased pregnancy rates, and a void in the availability of these health care services. The only option now for these counties is to refer women to Planned Parenthoods in other counties. The question is how long these Planned Parenthood providers will be around if Paul Ryan and Scott Walker have their way.
The reality is that PPWI is one of the few charity health care providers to underserved people. Over 54% of PPWI's health centers are in health professional shortage areas, which are rural or medically underserved areas. In 73% of the counties that PPWI serves, there is no provider who has the capacity to absorb PPWI's patients. And PPWI loses money on every single Medicaid patient they serve, a result few providers can, or are willing to, absorb. PPWI's mission is not profit, but to serve patients.
This week, my Democratic colleagues and I sent letters to both Paul Ryan and Scott Walker calling on them to cease their efforts to deny public funds to Planned Parenthood. These politicians shouldn't be jeopardizing the life and health of Wisconsin men and women to score political points. Without a massive public backlash against their efforts, that will be the result. And women and families will suffer.
Please take time this week to call Paul Ryan's office at (202) 225-3031 and Scott Walker's office at (608) 266-1212 to urge them to fund the life-saving patient care provided to thousands of Wisconsinites and patients throughout the country at Planned Parenthood. Women's health and lives depend upon it.