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Why McSally’s push to defund Planned Parenthood isn’t all that popular

U.S. Rep. Martha McSally is no fan of Planned Parenthood.

McSally is a staunch opponent of abortion rights, opposing the procedure except in cases where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, or if the mother's life is in danger as a result of the pregnancy.

And while federal funding for abortion services is already against the law, McSally has voted repeatedly to block the ability of low-income women and men to visit a Planned Parenthood clinic for any of the other services that Planned Parenthood provides, whether it's treatment for STDs, birth-control prescriptions, regular checkups or what have you.

Those votes haven't had much impact yet because under current federal law, Medicaid patients are allowed to see whatever qualified healthcare provider they choose. That's why efforts in Arizona and elsewhere to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood clinics have been blocked by the federal courts.

But with Republicans now in charge of both the White House and Congress, GOP lawmakers are pushing forward with plans to change the law to block any Medicaid dollars from going to Planned Parenthood or any other healthcare organization that provides abortion services in addition to other healthcare. That would mean that low-income patients—and we're talking to anyone below 138 percent of the federal poverty level in Arizona who qualifies for AHCCCS—would no longer be able to go to Planned Parenthood.

In her recent town hall, McSally defended her support for legislation that cuts off any funding for Planned Parenthood by repeating a line she and other Republicans have adopted: The funding will move to community health centers that can provide the same services that Planned Parenthood now handles.

As McSally spokesman Patrick Ptak told the Weekly via email (shortly before he left McSally's office and moved on to a similar gig with Gov. Doug Ducey last week): "There are only two Planned Parenthood facilities in Southern Arizona, while there are 28 community health centers. These centers offer all of the non-abortion services that Planned Parenthood offers, such as family planning and birth control services, and many services Planned Parenthood does not, such as mammograms. They also provide mental health care, WIC programs, children's health care, vaccinations, pap tests, and more. In Southern Arizona these facilities provide care to nearly 160,000 people, significantly more than Planned Parenthood. Likewise, around the country, community health centers outnumber Planned Parenthood facilities 18 to 1."

Given McSally's push to shut down Planned Parenthood clinics in favor of community health centers, the Weekly asked her office on Monday, Feb. 27, to put us in touch with someone from a local community health center who would support the idea of taking funding from Planned Parenthood clinics and taking over the job that Planned Parenthood does. As of Tuesday, March 7, McSally's office had not responded to that request.

From what we hear (and the reps from community health centers we spoke to wouldn't go on the record because they are also fighting for their financial lives as GOP lawmakers work on repealing the Affordable Care Act—and to her credit, McSally has been supportive of maintaining elements of the Affordable Care Act that helps keep their doors open), that's because community health centers don't want to cannibalize Planned Parenthood, which plays an important role in the healthcare system.

Here's the reason that many women and men choose to go to Planned Parenthood for their sexual health needs: Planned Parenthood has a reputation for specializing in those areas. And often, people don't feel comfortable using their primary-care physician to deal with questions about sexual health. Some are embarrassed, some are ashamed, some had one-night stands they'd rather not tell their primary-care doctor about. Planned Parenthood provides confidential testing and counseling that people trust.

As high school student and Planned Parenthood patient Deja Foxx, who asked McSally about Planned Parenthood funding at her town hall, later said in a prepared statement:

"The answer I received concerning Planned Parenthood was, essentially, that I should go somewhere else for the care I need. This answer is ignorant of the close bond Planned Parenthood has with the young people in our community. Planned Parenthood is where many of my peers and I feel comfortable and encouraged to ask questions; it is the care provider of choice for many Arizonans, especially young people. In not supporting Planned Parenthood, Martha McSally is doing the youth of Arizona a great disservice. The actions of GOP lawmakers surrounding defunding Planned Parenthood concerns me not only in that they are threatening to take care directly away from me and so many others, but also in that they clearly are not listening to the voices of my generation."

Planned Parenthood's most recent online annual report, covering 2014-2015, showed that the organization provided 4.5 million tests and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, 3.6 million contraception related services, 935,573 cancer screenings including breast exams and Pap tests and 1.1 million pregnancy tests and prenatal services.

And the organization remains popular, according to polling data: A January 2017 Quinnipiac survey showed that 62 percent of 1,190 voters nationwide opposed cutting off funding for Planned Parenthood, while 31 percent supported cutting off funding. When pollsters asked if voters knew that none of the federal funding went to abortion services, support for funding Planned Parenthood jumped to 80 percent.

Polling has shown similar support in Arizona. Planned Parenthood released the results of a December poll of Arizona voters that showed 60 percent had a favorable view of Planned Parenthood, while 30 percent did not. The Global Strategy Group survey of 600 likely 2018 voters had a margin of plus or minus 4 percent.

"People don't go to Planned Parenthood to make a political statement," said Jodi Liggett, vice president of public affairs of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, in a prepared statement. "They go there for affordable, quality health care. In Arizona alone, more than 33,000 of people are provided with health care services. Without Planned Parenthood, thousands in Arizona would be left with nowhere else to go. Our supporters aren't going to let that happen."

After a brief paternity break, Zona Politics with Jim Nintzel returns to the airwaves this weekend. The programs air at 5 p.m. Sundays on KXCI, 91.3 FM and at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. Sundays on KEVT, 1290 AM.