The Planned Parenthood Closures In Iowa Are A Warning To The Rest Of The Country

The gutting of four clinics there could be a sign of what's to come nationally.

Monica Stovall, a 60-year-old call center manager for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, spent much of last two weeks trying to walk her staff and patients through what comes next after June 30, when one-third of Iowa’s 12 Planned Parenthood clinics will close due to funding cuts.

The phones started ringing on Thursday, May 18 when Planned Parenthood of the Heartland announced that it will be forced to shutter four clinics, and they haven’t stopped since.

One patient called to say that she first went to her local Planned Parenthood clinic when she was 15, and is still a patient now that she’s in her 50s, because she loves the staff and trusts them wholeheartedly. Her closest health care provider will now be more than a two-hour drive away.

“Patients are calling saying, ‘What am I going to do?’” said Stovall, who has worked for the health care provider for nearly 10 years. She will keep her job, but three of her 11 team members will lose theirs and she worries it will be impossible for them to find comparable jobs that pay fairly and feel as meaningful.

And while it would be easy to dismiss the closures of the four clinics in Bettendorf, Burlington, Keokuk and Sioux City as a concern for rural Iowans only, Planned Parenthood staff warn that Iowa could be a harbinger of what is to come nationally should President Donald Trump and the GOP succeed at “defunding” the health care provider. The Iowa closures are a direct result of a new state law that blocks Medicaid patients from getting their health care at Planned Parenthood or other providers that offer abortions ― all of which is very similar to what has been called for under the Obamacare repeal.

“We certainly see at the federal level that lawmakers have made it a priority to ‘defund’ Planned Parenthood across the board, and so Iowa may be the bell weather for that,” Rachel Lopez, public relations manager for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, told HuffPost. “We certainly see it as a trend moving forward, which will, of course, set health crises in motion across the country.”

According to Planned Parenthood’s estimates, the four heartland clinics served nearly 15,000 patients, many of whom rely on publicly-funded insurance. Staff at the clinics are busy calling around to other area health care providers to see where they can refer their patients. But many of those health centers have said they’re worried they lack the resources to absorb those patients, Lopez said ― despite assurances from Republican lawmakers that no one will fall through the cracks.

We have patients who come to us seeking confidential services ― you know, maybe they are insured, but they’re not able to tell certain people in their lives that they’re seeking exams, or they’re seeking birth control. Angela Rodriguez-Finch, center manager, Quad Cities

Evidence from Texas, which moved to defund Planned Parenthood in 2011, lends credence to such fears. Women there had decreased access to contraception as well as to primary care providers who were simply unable to keep up with the demand.

But Planned Parenthood staffers in Iowa stress that it isn’t simply a numbers game. They say their patients have come to rely on a particular level of comprehensive, non-judgmental care, regardless of how much money they have or what their life circumstances include ― care that is often in short-supply at resource-strapped safety net facilities.

“We have patients who come to us seeking confidential services ― you know, maybe they are insured, but they’re not able to tell certain people in their lives that they’re seeking exams, or they’re seeking birth control ― these are not the folks who are going to get on the phone and try and find another provider that will hold that confidentiality for them,” Angela Rodriguez-Finch, 52, center manager of the soon-to-be-shuttered Quad Cities Planned Parenthood clinic in Bettendorf told HuffPost. 

“Where are they going to go?” she wondered aloud. “What are they going to do? I just, I almost can’t get my mind around what’s going to happen in this community.” Rodriguez-Finch said she had heard from three patients who were specifically concerned about confidentiality within the last week.

This is my community. Yours could be next. Angela Rodriguez-Finch, center manager, Quad Cities

Craig Petersen, the prescription and eligibility program manager of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, said he too has spent much of the last week on the phone with the uninsured or under-insured patients he has served in his current role for the past six years, helping them manage their health care costs. Iowa’s family-planning network waiver (IFPN), an income-based program that provides coverage for many patients who don’t qualify for Medicaid, was eliminated under the law, and most of his team will be let go.

“I’m sad for our patients who will now have to find other health care providers, because Planned Parenthood provides such high-quality care, and I’m disgusted, really, at having to say goodbye to friends and co-workers who’ve been with the organization for years ― who have dedicated themselves to the mission,” said Petersen, 39. “I guess mostly, I’m enraged at our lawmakers for the seeming complete disregard for the health and wellbeing of men and women throughout the state. It just seems like this is a complete political stampede.”

Rodriguez-Finch, who has been with Planned Parenthood for seven years but is losing her job as a result of the funding cut, implored the rest of the country not to brush aside what is happening in her state. Like Stovall and Petersen, she expressed dismay at hearing from patients who are looking for answers and assurances she is unable to provide.

“This is my community,” she said. “Yours could be next.”