June 12, 2013

A planned expansion

Planned Parenthood of Kentucky and Indiana merge, increasing reproductive health care services, perhaps including abortion

The Planned Parenthood affiliates of Indiana and Kentucky announced Monday that they will merge into one organization — Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky (PPINK) — effective July 1, hoping to improve and expand access to reproductive health care services and education in both states.

“Our combined strength and depth is going to make us much better able to serve the needs of current clients in both Kentucky and Indiana, and to participate in meeting much of the need that still exists in both of those states,” says Kim Greene, chairwoman of the Planned Parenthood of Kentucky board.

While Planned Parenthood is widespread throughout Indiana — with 26 clinics providing preventative health care services such as Pap tests, breast exams, STD testing, birth control and pregnancy tests to more than 70,000 mostly low-income patients — Kentucky has only two clinics, with one in Louisville and another in Lexington.

Greene noted that the dearth of reproductive health care access outside of these urban areas coincides with Kentucky having the second highest number of deaths due to cervical cancer and the seventh highest teen birth rate in the nation.

While the merged PPINK is still studying how to improve services in Kentucky, Planned Parenthood of Indiana president and CEO Betty Cockrum — who will take over the same position at PPINK — says they are hoping to expand clinics elsewhere in the state.

“I think it’s more likely that (new health centers and clinics) would be outside of those two communities,” Cockrum says. “Kentucky’s a big state, and there are only two Planned Parenthood locations here at this point, and we’d sure like to change that.”

One service that Planned Parenthood currently provides to patients in Indiana that is not available at Kentucky’s two clinics is abortion.

Four PPIN clinics performed 5,005 abortions last year (almost half of the state total) while only two non-Planned Parenthood clinics in Kentucky — EMW Women’s Surgical Centers in Louisville and Lexington — offer the procedure. This makes access for women seeking abortion difficult as it entails a cost typically exceeding $600, a multi-hour or out-of-state drive for many rural women, and a concentration of aggressive protesters screaming at women as they walk into the clinic.

Asked if PPINK plans to add abortion services to their clinics in Kentucky, Cockrum says they first have to study such a move.

“What we’re doing is taking a long-view and comprehensive review of the entire demographic of the state of Kentucky,” Cockrum says. “It’s important for us to understand what it looks like and where the needs are greatest, and what those needs are, so that we can best meet them… So that study will begin sometime between now and Labor Day, and we will figure out where to be with what.”

Before the announcement, however, several sources familiar with PPKY’s decision-making process told LEO Weekly that the organization hopes to add abortion services in Louisville by the end of this year, with Lexington to follow, though there were no current plans to extend beyond those cities.

Indiana Right to Life and Kentucky Right to Life immediately criticized the merger, with the anti-abortion groups expecting Planned Parenthood’s abortion services to expand into Kentucky.

Planned Parenthood has been under attack by Indiana’s state legislature over the past two years, as it was the first state to pass a law attempting to cut off all government funding and prohibit Medicaid coverage at their clinics. The courts overturned this legislation, and Cockrum says the decision to merge was not influenced by it.

Asked if PPINK was bracing for a conservative backlash to the merger, Greene of PPKY says they are well accustomed to dealing with the familiar crowd seeking to restrict reproductive freedom.

“I guess we’re always kind of expecting pushback from everything that we do,” Greene says. “But we’re ready. These folks (in Indiana) have dealt with it a long, long time, and very successfully. And we’ve been around 80 years, too, dealing with it.”

Cockrum views any such pushback as another high-profile opportunity to educate the public about the importance of reproductive health care, noting that 97 percent of the services provided by Planned Parenthood are preventative, such as cancer screenings that often save lives.

“We’re oftentimes the only medical provider that our patients see,” Cockrum says. “And ideally, even those who would prefer that we not exist would acknowledge that the need is there and we’re out there meeting it, often more so than any other health care provider.”

Since Congress passed the Hyde Amendment in 1976, government funds have been prohibited from going toward abortion services. The federal Title X and Medicaid funds that Planned Parenthood receives are directed to services other than abortion.

Derek Selznick — director of the ACLU of Kentucky’s Reproductive Freedom Project, which is a longtime ally of Planned Parenthood — says the intention of the merged affiliate to expand beyond Lexington and Louisville is welcome news.

“Any time you’re talking about expanding health care services, that’s a good thing, regardless of what those services are,” Selznick says. “We do know there are not a lot of providers for all health care services throughout Kentucky, and any time we add to that mix I think we’re getting a positive." 

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