In Wisconsin, the war on women continues to draw casualties as women in the state find access to critical health care services harder and harder to come by. The latest victims in Republicans’ crusade to make the state a health-care desert are four Planned Parenthood clinics that have been forced to close thanks to the state legislature’s continued budget cuts to family planning and sexual health programs.
Planned Parenthood currently has 27 centers in the state but will now drop to 23 as a result of these closures. The clinics to close are in Beaver Dam, Johnson Creek, Chippewa Falls and Shawano. Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin estimates the closures will affect approximately 2000 patients.
The impact these closures will have on the women of Wisconsin cannot be overstated. Planned Parenthood is the only reproductive health provider for low-income women in these communities. That means that uninsured or financially constrained patients seeking health care will need to travel outside of their county and in some instances up to an hour to receive essential health care services. For some women, this added burden could make the difference in whether they access routine cancer screens, STD tests, treatment or birth control.
“Cutting funds and turning away resources tied to the Medicaid program when people are going without essential health care will negatively impact community health and cost taxpayers’ money,” said Nicole Safar, Public Policy Director for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. “Barriers to preventative and lifesaving diagnostic health care will most certainly result in an increase of the number of unintended pregnancies, abortions, undetected cancer occurrences and higher STD/HIV rates. This year we will be watching closely to see what impact this budget will have on Wisconsin communities and the women and families that rely on Planned Parenthood.”
For its part, Planned Parenthood is doing what it can to absorb the patients and continue to find them care. “For 78 years, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has been providing high quality health care including lifesaving cancer screenings, well-woman exams, birth control, and testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections to approximately 80,000 women and families in 27 health centers across Wisconsin,” said Deb Bonilla, Vice President of Patient Services. “Continued patient care is our top priority. Health center staff are working with the affected patients to identify health care alternatives to minimize the impact of these closures.”
Planned Parenthood estimates that nearly 165,000 Wisconsin women who are in need of publicly supported reproductive and sexual health services go without needed health care. Despite this unmet need, during the last budget cycle Governor Walker ended state funding for 12,000 women who receive health care at Planned Parenthood. This coupled with the Governor’s recent rejection of federal funds and the resulting drastic rollback of BadgerCare coverage will increase the amount of women who do not have access to health care. These politically motivated actions will have a significant impact on women seeking affordable health care.
“Women are going to have to drive even longer distances just to get basic health care like wellness exams, cancer screenings and birth control,” said Deb Bonilla, Vice President of Patient Services. “We are doing all we can to ensure that women get the care they need, but in some instances the resulting barriers to care will make health care access very difficult.”
Unfortunately, with Republican-led state legislatures continuing their attacks on low income health care, stories like this will be more and more common. When women can’t access the health care services they need because a politician forced their clinic to close that is the very definition of playing politics with women’s lives.
Photo from WarmSleepy via flickr.