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By MEGAN DOYLE South Bend Tribune Staff Writer
As Planned Parenthood of Indiana fights for nearly $1.4 million of federal funding in a lawsuit against the state, Medicaid patients could soon lose access to family planning services in South Bend.
A bill signed by Gov. Mitch Daniels cut federal funding to Planned Parenthood May 10 as part of House Enrolled Act 1210. The bill cancels federal funding to all organizations that provide abortions to their patients.
The bill also proposed to ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, four weeks earlier than the previous regulation, and requires doctors to provide more information to abortion patients. This portion of the bill will take effect July 1.
Planned Parenthood of Indiana President Betty Cockrum said the organization received more than $120,000 in donations after the state cut the organization's funding. These donations have supported Medicaid patients throughout Indiana since May, but the funds will run out June 20.
"These donations are coming from people in 46 states and three continents who are saying this is wrong. They are saying it is wrong to shut down the biggest provider of reproductive medical services from serving Medicaid patients," Cockrum said. "It is a protest."
In 2010, the Mishawaka Planned Parenthood location served 317 patients on Medicaid. Many of Planned Parenthood's Medicaid patients in Mishawaka still seek service at the center.
"We have not seen falloff in our patients, which shows that (Planned Parenthood) is where they want to be for their service," Cockrum said.
Planned Parenthood filed its lawsuit against the state to challenge the bill's constitutionality last week, and a decision is expected by July 1. If U.S. Federal Judge Tanya Walton Pratt decides in favor of Planned Parenthood, full funding would be restored to the organization. If not, the law would stand.
"One of the bones of this issue is how cavalier political leaders have been with their funding," she said. "They seem to think Medicaid providers are lined up on the side of the street and ready to serve all our patients when we can't, and that is simply not true."
Tom Gill, president of the St. Joseph County Right to Life, disagreed with Planned Parenthood's argument.
"I think it is arrogant of Planned Parenthood to think they are the only provider for those services," Gill said. "There are plenty of other sources for all the other services that Planned Parenthood provides throughout the state."
Gill said the bill will help limit the number of abortions in the state.
"We're very pleased with the way the bill was written because it puts more restrictions on abortions and provides more information for women when they make a decision about abortion," Gill said.
One of the bill's provisions required a doctor to inform a patient that a fetus could feel pain before or at 20 weeks of pregnancy. In its lawsuit against the state, one of Planned Parenthood's arguments states this requirement is against the right to free speech in the First Amendment.
"To give anybody information on a medical procedure cannot in any way violate the Constitution," Gill said.
Two representatives from Planned Parenthood addressed the League of Women Voters on the issue at its monthly luncheon Friday. Dr. Ellyn Stecker, a board member for Planned Parenthood, and Joyce Wegs, a member of the Community Advisory Board of North Central Indiana Planned Parenthood, talked to the group about the bill's consequences as well.
Both women agreed the bill decreases the number of reproductive choices for women. Stecker said the state bill is a danger to women's health care options. Thirteen other area health centers are Medicaid providers, she said, but not all will provide family planning services.
"What this bill does is further squeeze abortion access in the state of Indiana where it is already very limited," Stecker said. "It eliminates access to contraception for a significant number of people who really need the subsidized coverage in this recession era. ... It threatens health care by defunding cancer screening and sexually transmitted disease testing, treatment and prevention."
Of the 28 Planned Parenthood clinics in Indiana, Stecker said only four provide abortions. These centers are located in Indianapolis, Bloomington, Merrillville and Lafayette.
The state, however, never funded abortions. Federal funds for abortion are only available in the case of rape, incest or disability for the mother.
Stecker said the federal government traditionally supported Planned Parenthood because of the demand for its services.
"Now that we have women choosing contraception and abortion in large numbers because it is healthier for their family at the time, the federal government has chosen to provide family planning services for years," Stecker said.
Wegs, a retired insurance agent, said the funding cuts could mean huge costs for women who look for the same services elsewhere.
"Considering that Planned Parenthood's charges are far lower than that of other providers, sending women on Medicaid to more expensive providers will now cost the citizens of Indiana more," she said. "To cite a single example I heard recently, a women wanting gonorrhea and chlamydia testing would pay over $200 at MedPoint and only $19 at Planned Parenthood. The services aren't free, but they are significantly cheaper."
Planned Parenthood provides essential service for poor, under-insured and uninsured women, she said.
"It's expensive to be a woman because both having and not having children is expensive," she said.
South Bend resident Emee Gaither-Miller attended the talk.
"For a woman, there are three choices when you are pregnant," she said. "You can have the baby, abort or put the baby up for adoption. Those three choices are all difficult ones, but I think the right to choose is still a fundamental right. ... I have a lot more questions."
Staff writer Megan Doyle: firstname.lastname@example.org