Jindal Cuts Medicaid Funding for Planned Parenthood as Senate Efforts to Defund Group Fail

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal
Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal

In the wake of a smear campaign against Planned Parenthood — one of the nation’s largest healthcare service providers for women (as well as men and youth) — the Senate voted last night on a bill that would have prohibited federal funds from going to the organization. That bill received 53 yea votes to 46 nay votes, 7 short of the 60 needed to overcome a Democratic filibuster, effectively defeating the proposed measure.

Women’s health advocates can breathe a little bit easier after last night’s defeat of conservative efforts to dismantle a network of clinics that serve over 2.7 million patients nationwide, many of them low- or middle-income women. Although Planned Parenthood is a perpetual target of pro-life hate-mongers, the group actually provides a broad range of reproductive and general healthcare services, including sex education, contraceptive care, and pre-natal care, as well as tests and treatment for sexually-transmitted diseases. Less than 5% of the clinic’s patients arrive seeking abortion services.

Over the past few months, a new tactic has emerged in the conservative Right’s war against women’s reproductive health — a war that has seen pro-life activists winning incremental advances in ending choice and  limiting abortion access by making the process of obtaining a legal abortion increasingly arduous through senseless restrictions. Over the last year, for example, several states have passed laws banning sex-selective abortions; yet, these restrictions unnecessarily require doctors to rigorously interrogate women for their reasons for getting an abortion, and further prevent the practice in states where abortions at the age when fetal sex can be first determined are already illegal. In addition, such bans have been passed on the basis of openly racist anti-Asian and anti-immigrant rhetoric.

There is a overwhelming belief — rooted in part in the Model Minority Myth — that abortion is not an Asian American issue because Asian American women do not seek or receive abortions. Nothing could be further from the truth. Although Asian American women represent a small fraction of all women who receive abortion services, the abortion rate among Asian American women remains among the highest for women of any race or ethnicity: in 2000, 35% of Asian American pregnancies ended in abortion. Efforts to limit abortion access will affect many patients — among them women of colour, lower-income women, and trans-men; we mustn’t forget that Asian American women are also severely impacted by these anti-choice efforts.

Indeed, it has become clear over the last year that the pro-life lobby is increasingly targeting women of colour in their efforts to restrict abortion and criminalize pregnancy. After the passage of feticide laws in Indiana, the first women to face prosecution were Asian American and immigrant women of colour — one criminalized for a suicide attempt that resulted in the death of her fetus and another imprisoned for 20 years for suffering a miscarriage. Amanda Marcotte notes that efforts to stymy abortion access and reproductive healthcare services provided by clinics like Planned Parenthood will disproportionately impact single women of colour. In 2007, nearly 14,000 Asian American women went to Planned Parenthood to access their healthcare services.

It is baffling to me that the Right continues to wage a war on women’s reproductive healthcare, and clinics that provide these services to women. Not only are abortions legal, but the bulk of the services provided by clinics like Planned Parenthood — contraceptive care, breast exams, STD screening, and sex education — are, quite simply and incontrovertibly, beneficial. Reflecting this, 63% of Americans oppose defunding Planned Parenthood.

One person who appears to be among that one-third of Americans in favour of defunding Planned Parenthood — in complete disregard to how Planned Parenthood and its services help the Asian American and Pacific Islander community among other groups — is Louisiana’s Governor Bobby Jindal. On the eve of the Senate’s attempts to block federal funding of Planned Parenthood, Jindal announced that he wouldn’t bother to wait for the Senate vote. Jindal has decided that he will be personally defunding Planned Parenthood: he said yesterday that he is ending the state contract between Louisiana and Planned Parenthood that gives Medicaid funding the to the network of reproductive care clinics.

Justifying the decision, Jindal’s office cited a series of stealth videos taken of Planned Parenthood leadership, purporting to show the sale of fetal tissue — videos that are now widely believed to have been prejudicially edited. From a press release:

In recent weeks, multiple videos have surfaced showing Planned Parenthood Federation of America senior personnel and other employees describing how they actively engage in illegal partial birth abortion procedures and conduct these abortions in a manner that leaves body parts intact so that they can later be sold on the open market.

In fact, the non-profit sale of fetal tissue is legal with the consent of the patient. More importantly, it is a vital source of valuable material for biomedical research. Cell lines obtained from fetal tissues are critical for the study and the eventual development of regenerative treatment for a broad range of diseases, including but not limited to macular degeneration, spinal cord injury, stroke and leukemia. While I would agree that the sale of fetal tissue should be more tightly regulated, I take this position in recognition of the law’s failure to prohibit distributors from charging exorbitant processing fees for access to donated fetal material, which openly flouts restrictions against earning a profit from these samples.

Jindal’s announcement yesterday is clearly another effort to limit reproductive care and abortion access, while using the redherring of fetal tissue sales as political cover. Yet, in Louisiana, Planned Parenthood clinics do not provide abortion services and therefore do not have access to fetal tissues to sell, whether in a for- or non-profit capacity. Thus, it becomes unclear how the governor’s office can rationalize their cutting of Medicaid funding — federal funding designed to help lower-income women access healthcare services — to a network of clinics that count among their patients mostly lower- and middle-income women. Nationally, about one-third of Planned Parenthood’s funding comes from federal sources, the majority of which is state and federal Medicaid funding.

Already in Louisiana, patients seeking abortion services are profoundly stymied. The state has only three abortion clinics. A patient living in Lake Charles, Louisiana, for example, has a nearly 3 hour drive to the nearest in-state abortion clinic. We already know that restrictions to abortion services disproportionately impact women of colour: nearly 40% of Louisiana’s residents are people of colour, mostly Black men and women.

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is currently running to represent the Republican Party in next year’s presidential election. If this announcement is any indication, a Jindal administration would be intensely hostile to women, as well as many other marginalized groups. This cannot stand. I urge you to take the next year and hold Jindal accountable for yesterday’s announcement to defund Planned Parenthood, as well as Jindal’s many other problematic statements and positions. #AskJindal to account for his stance against abortion access and reproductive rights. Demand an accounting from the Jindal campaign on these and other issues in upcoming debates and campaign appearances. Don’t let this slide.

In the unlikely event that Bobby Jindal is nominated by Republican voters to represent the party in next year’s presidential election, he would be the first Indian American presidential candidate to represent either major American political party. Until that time (if it is to come to pass), Jindal has a massive platform by which he will be influencing American political debate. This is our chance as Asian Americans to really get into this debate, and to unrelentingly hold Bobby Jindal’s feet to the fire for his regressive and problematic positions and actions.

I haven’t yet endorsed anyone for the 2016 presidential race, but it’s probably pretty safe to say I won’t be endorsing Bobby Jindal.

Update: Okay, I’m pretty sure that Bobby Jindal is trolling America. Last week, Jindal unveiled a plan to arrest and prosecute elected officials of “sanctuary cities”cities that protect undocumented immigrants from unnecessary harassment by local law enforcement — as criminal accomplices to any crime committed by someone on undocumented status. Because, y’know, criminalizing city mayors for carrying out the law while perpetuating the myth that undocumented immigrants are all “drug dealers” and “rapists” would apparently be official policy of a Jindal administration.

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