Last week pro-choice advocates were shocked to read the news that Planned Parenthood El Paso had permanently closed all six of its clinics. Abortion opponents are of course trying to claim this as a victory for their side. But the clinics’ 11,000 clients do not see it that way. Their main concern is why they weren’t told in advance, and what there are supposed to do now.
A financial audit of Planned Parenthood El Paso is currently in the works, but the results won’t be available for 30 days. According to a reporter with the Newspaper Tree in El Paso, Planned Parenthood El Paso had not filed its required 2007 or 2008 tax paperwork with the IRS that is necessary to maintain its 501c3 status. The tax filings for 2006 showed that Planned Parenthood El Paso was over $100,000 in debt. This doesn’t surprise me, since government funding for family planning services has steadily declined at the same time that private donations and grant funding have fizzled out due to the economy. However, it does strike me as very troubling that the paperwork itself isn’t on file with the IRS. Who fell down on the job?
I’m not inclined to finger point and assign blame, however. The more important question is where will patients in El Paso go now that Planned Parenthood has closed its doors?
Writer Vanessa Torres makes an excellent point. Planned’ Parenthood doesn’t just provide abortions. In fact, abortions account for less than 10% of all of Planned Parenthood’s services, and the El Paso clinics themselves didn’t even offer the service. Preventative care is the primary service that most patients seek when they make an appointment with Planned Parenthood. Torres asks who will provide necessary health services now that Planned Parenthood has closed its doors in El Paso.
I went to the Pebble Hills clinic several times while growing up in El Paso—both in high school and college—for birth control and STD screenings. I also referred numerous friends to their services and all of us, to my knowledge, have remained disease and—intentionally—pregnancy free (no abortions, no miscarriages) to this day.
True, we belong to a circle of highly educated Gen Y ladies now, but without Planned Parenthood I’m unsure where we’d have turned back then. Even for smart, increasingly independent, middle class girls, discretion was a necessary aspect of caring for our bodies. Though we might have been able to afford a visit to the regular doctor (with some clever lunch money saving), in El Paso—where it seems like everyone knows you, your mother or your grandmother’s name—a doctor’s waiting room or hospital clinic hardly assured privacy.
Imagine, then, how the loss of Planned Parenthood may impact the health of women and girls who don’t have the means to seek other care. And by means, I’m not referring only to cost. Discretion and access are everything in dealing with women’s health. I worry that when a city the size of El Paso limits access, it puts its women at a greater risk for unchecked disease and for retaliation from people (mom, dad, husband, boyfriend, brother, etc.) who shouldn’t have any control over their lives and their bodies, but quite often still do.
I agree with Torres. It will be important to view the results of Planned Parenthood’s financial audit with a critical eye so that other clinics don’t face a similar fate. In the meantime, here’s hoping that El Paso’s family planning service providers can fill in the gap in services.
Or perhaps Democratic and Libertarian politicians should pick up the tab and help Planned Parenthood reopen its doors. El Paso writer David Karisuher has dug up the dirt on El Paso’s state and federal representatives and found out their flush with cash. He’s urging El Paso residents to get on the horn to call their representatives and get the cash flowing in Planned Parenthood’s direction.