Congressman Jeff Denham made it abundantly clear at his April town hall that he doesn’t put a priority on the health of women in his district.
When asked why he doesn’t support Planned Parenthood and the reproductive health services the organization provides to thousands of his constituents, Rep. Denham responded that he’s “pro-life” and always has been. “It’s a personal view for me,” he said.
It’s also personal for the crowd of nearly 1,000 that attended the “Government Night” meeting in Denair, where many outraged constituents accused their congressman of playing politics with their health and lives.
Denham said he supports cutting off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood, which serves 15,000 people in his district – most of whom are low-income. Among the many preventive services that Medicaid reimburses Planned Parenthood for are long-acting contraceptives, testing and treatment for STDs and cancer-screenings – not abortion services, which are prohibited from receiving any federal funding.
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Denham’s personal view could end up doing serious damage in the community, determining when, where and if women can receive essential health care.
Ask Melissa Reed of Modesto, a cancer-survivor and mom of four, how she felt about Denham’s stance when she attended the town hall. Melissa’s early-stage invasive cervical cancer was discovered during her visit to the Planned Parenthood health center in Modesto.
Melissa wanted to speak to Denham directly, but could not get through the rigid screening process at the town hall. This is what Melissa was prepared to say: “Without Planned Parenthood I don’t know how long I would have gone undetected with cervical cancer. I wouldn’t have had the emotional support to get through all of that. Without Planned Parenthood services I don’t know what I would be going through today.”
When many pointed out that Denham’s personal views should not limit their freedom to choose their own medical provider or restrict a woman’s access to affordable health care, he claimed there are 16 clinics in his district other than Planned Parenthood that offer care for women.
This is the party line being pushed by congressional Republicans, insinuating there are other health clinics easily able to serve Planned Parenthood patients. It is simply not true.
For example, of the “16 health center options” that Denham referred to, 13 are clinics operated by one federally qualified health center in District 10; four of them don’t even offer women’s health care.
Even the nine that do offer health care for women are at maximum capacity, and many are not taking any new patients. Waiting periods just for Pap tests, the screening procedure for cervical cancer, can be as long as two months.
Politicians’ personal views against Planned Parenthood have already led to increases in unintended pregnancies, STDs and HIV in states like Indiana, Kansas and Texas where Planned Parenthood funding was eliminated because some health centers provide abortion services. There’s no telling how many cases of cancer have gone undetected in those states.
Some who attended Denham’s town hall work in hospitals or clinics in District 10, and they were quick to agree with many of their colleagues who say that pulling Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood would punch a hole in a community safety net that’s already stretched to the breaking point.
Meanwhile, the California Primary Care Association has reiterated that community health centers cannot absorb Planned Parenthood patients if the organization loses its funding.
Does Denham not realize that long delays in care – or not being able to find care at all – will cost women their health and maybe their lives? Or is he choosing to look the other way?
Cheri Greven is a director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte and attended Rep. Denham’s town hall on April 17. She wrote this for The Modesto Bee.