It’s been a trying few weeks at Richmond’s Planned Parenthood, where employees have watched a Republican-controlled federal government begin to roll back health care measures and target the women’s health organization for offering abortions.
The biggest impact so far has been the rush to get long-term contraception, including intrauterine devices, since the election, says Paulette McElwain, the president of the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood.
“It’s been intense,” she says. “We’ve seen a quadrupling in how many IUDs we’re providing.”
That’s because some people fear a key component of former President Barack Obama’s health care legislation could disappear: co-pay for birth control.
The feature is credited for reducing numbers of unintended pregnancies nationwide — a statistic that will reverse if birth control becomes more expensive, McElwain says.
But IUD insertion isn’t the only reason Planned Parenthood is concerned. President Donald Trump has committed to nominating a Supreme Court justice opposed to abortion and revived a ban on foreign aid to groups that provide abortion counseling. Congress pledges to defund Planned Parenthood in its budget.
Outside the clinic Thursday morning, employees waited for a visit from a representative with a different view, Democrat Rep. Donald McEachin.
With political transition underway, he says, “I needed an opportunity to come back and understand what that looks like from a federal level.”
Under a longstanding prohibition, no federal money received by Planned Parenthood goes to abortions, but that hasn’t stopped the portrayal. The plan is to disallow Medicaid patients from using their insurance for any Planned Parenthood service.
“When they talk about defunding, it sounds like Planned Parenthood gets handed a check,” McElwain says. “It’s not. It means that patients won’t be able to choose to use their insurance at Planned Parenthood.”
Already, many providers don’t accept the insurance for low-income people, McElwain says: “So we’re turning people out into the community without resources. They’re trying to argue that community health centers can take up the slack, and community health centers are saying they absolutely cannot.”
Medicaid patients account for about 6 percent of Virginia Planned Parenthood’s patients, McElwain says. But the blow is significant.
McElwain leads McEachin through the Hamilton Street facility, describing the primary care, pregnancy services and cancer screenings the organization provides. Hallways are wide and hospitallike, because of 2011 state regulations requiring them.
“It was about a $1 million extra,” McElwain says.
The Richmond location sees around 17,000 patient visits a year.
The conversation turns to anti-abortion bills in the Republican-controlled General Assembly, like the proposed ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Gov. Terry McAuliffe has said he will veto attempts to limit access to abortion — again and for the last time.
“It underscores why this next gubernatorial election is so important,” McEachin says. “Nice of them to remind us.”