Planned Parenthood of Illinois calls a new Trump administration rule allowing additional employers to opt out of providing birth control coverage a further "attack" on reproductive rights.
The Department of Health and Human Services rule says employers who have a "sincerely held moral or religious objection" to contraception can refuse to provide coverage.
“Unfortunately the change to the birth control mandate is just another attempt to try to dismantle the protections women were guaranteed" under the Affordable Care Act, said Rianne Hawkins of Planned Parenthood of Illinois.
Hawkins along with Jenna Prochaska of the ACLU of Illinois will take questions from the public about women’s health and reproductive rights at a panel discussion Wednesday, Oct. 18, at 7 p.m. at the Normal Public Library community room. The program is co-sponsored by the ACLU and the League of Women Voters of McLean County.
The Affordable Care Act currently mandates contraceptive coverage through insurance plans without co-pays.
Previously, only churches and religiously-affiliated organizations as well as some closely-held private companies could seek exemptions from the mandate on religious grounds. In those cases, women still could obtain contraceptive coverage directly from their employer's insurance provider.
In issuing the new rules, HHS said they expect the new rules to affect few women who seek contraception. Hawkins said it is too early to tell.
“Changing that mandate could potentially make it more difficult for women to have access to birth control. We are not really sure what the ramifications will be,” Hawkins said on GLT's Sound Ideas.
The latest move by the Trump administration reflects longstanding Republican efforts to eliminate federal funds for Planned Parenthood, which serves a significant number of low income women.
Most of the criticism surrounds abortion. Abortions are performed at some, but not all Planned Parenthood clinics.
“It’s important to note no federal funds can be used for abortion,” Hawkins said.
Although other clinics offer abortions, Hawkins said Planned Parenthood has been targeted most frequently because it is a large agency, and has been a vocal and persistent advocate for reproductive rights.
“Our patients know they can come to us and we will be here no matter what the attacks on us will be,” she said.
Most recently, Congress attempted to eliminate funding to Planned Parenthood through a repeal of the Affordable Care Act.
Various proposals to repeal the ACA have so far failed in Congress in the wake of public protest.
“We are grateful to our patients and advocates who stepped forward and said they will not stand for repeal of the ACA in any way,” Hawkins said.
Although no federal funds can be used for abortion, Planned Parenthood’s critics want to eliminate all funding for the organization because some of its facilities perform abortions.
Hawkins said the bulk of Planned Parenthood’s services are not abortion-related.
“We offer annual (gynecological) exams, sexual transmitted infection testing, transgender hormone therapy and tests for patients who might have been exposed to HIV,” Hawkins said.
“Abortions are one of the services we provide, and it’s a very small portion of our services.”
What's Offered in Bloomington
The Bloomington Planned Parenthood clinic does not offer surgical abortions. However, earlier this month, the clinic began offering patients “medication abortions” in which two types of pills are taken early in the pregnancy to end it.
Julie Lynn of Planned Parenthood in Chicago said the change was due to an overall re-evaluation of the services the Bloomington clinic provides. The Bloomington clinic also now provides hormone treatment for transgender patients.
Lynn said local women who sought medication abortions previously had to travel to clinics in Urbana, Springfield, Decatur or Chicago.
Medication abortions can only be performed within the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. Planned Parenthood performs surgical abortions up to 19 weeks into the pregnancy.
Hawkins said the Bloomington clinic had 4,000 patient visits last year and provided contraception to 2,000 patients.
Lynn said 87 percent of low income women who seek contraception in McLean County come to the Bloomington Planned Parenthood clinic.
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