WASHINGTON — Planned Parenthood is not going to go down without a fight.
The organization and its allies are launching an all-out campaign to protect the government funding that Republican lawmakers have vowed to take away as part of the repeal and replacement of Obamacare.
“We never relish a fight because what we like to do is provide care. But if a fight is required, then we will always stand up for the women and men and young people that we serve and have served,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president and chief brand officer of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told USA TODAY. “We don’t like it but we are ready for it.”
Planned Parenthood received $553.7 million in government funding in 2014. The majority of the money comes by way of reimbursement for services the centers provide to Medicaid patients. While Planned Parenthood does perform abortions, the government funds are not allowed to be used to pay for them except in cases of rape or incest or when a woman’s life is in danger.
Planned Parenthood is hoping to capitalize on a recent uptick in grass-roots support to put pressure on lawmakers. The organization has planned 300 nationwide events over the next three months and an advocacy campaign to get people to contact their members of Congress.
“We’re doing a ton of town hall meetings and other kinds of rallies and gatherings for people to be able to come together to show how much they care about Planned Parenthood and how much Planned Parenthood means to their community,” Laguens said
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has promised that the reconciliation bill used to repeal Obamacare will also halt government funds from going to Planned Parenthood.
Reconciliation is a budget procedure that that allows legislation to pass by earning a simple majority instead of the super-majority usually required. In the 100-member Senate, that means 51 votes are needed instead of 60.
Funding for Planned Parenthood is a mostly partisan issue, with most Republicans favoring eliminating it and most Democrats opposed. Still, Democrats are hoping they can peel off some Republicans. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, have previously expressed doubts about legislation to strip the organization of government funds.
“Reconciliation is the chicken way when you can’t get the votes because no one likes what you’re doing,” Laguens said. “[Lawmakers are] doing it because that’s the only way they could do it and I think they are going to face significant backlash over the effort.”
“If Republicans think taking away women’s access to health care somehow makes our country ‘greater,’ they obviously haven’t been listening to people in their own states who rely on Planned Parenthood and do not want extreme politicians getting in the way of care they need,” said Senate Assistant Minority Leader Patty Murray, D-Wash. “Democrats are going to fight back every step of the way.”
“I know more than one woman who has become pregnant because they didn’t have money at the right time to buy their birth control. This is going to set women back at least 50 years,” said Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis.
Dozens of volunteers tried to deliver almost 90,000 petitions to Ryan’s office last week calling for an end to defunding efforts. They were declined entry, so the volunteers delivered them to Moore’s office instead.
Moore threatened to go to Ryan’s district — where she was born and said she has “a lot of street cred” — to try to make the case for Planned Parenthood.
The budget resolution passed the Senate early Thursday and the House on Friday.
“For too long, Planned Parenthood has cashed in on our tax dollars — to the tune of more than $550 million a year — all while performing more than 320,000 abortions during the same length of time. As a nurse who has dedicated my career to protecting the health and safety of women and families, I know we can do better,” said Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn.
Black said Congress would reroute the funds “to the more than 13,500 community health centers nationwide that provide a broader range of healthcare services to women.”
However, finding health centers other than Planned Parenthood — particularly in rural areas — can be difficult.
When the issue came up in 2015, lists of alternate providers in Louisiana included dentists and nursing homes and Ohio’s list had food banks on it.
A previous attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act and defund Planned Parenthood failed when President Obama vetoed it last January.
But anti-abortion lawmakers and groups are expect that President-elect Donald Trump and incoming Vice President Mike Pence — an anti-abortion advocate who first introduced the idea of defunding Planned Parenthood when he was in the House — will back the legislation.
“The encouraging aspects of President-elect Trump’s actions have been the folks he’s been surrounding himself with … these are people that are champions and have been champions for life,” said Lila Rose, president of Live Action, an anti-abortion group.
Live Action has plans for an estimated $500,000 digital ad campaign critical of Planned Parenthood.