Sherrill vows fight to save Planned Parenthood, at Morristown talk

Rep. Mikie Sherrill speaks at Planned Parenthood in Morristown, April 17, 2019. Photo by Louise Witt.
Rep. Mikie Sherrill speaks at Planned Parenthood in Morristown, April 17, 2019. Photo by Louise Witt.
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By Louise Witt

Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th Dist.) said Wednesday she would support providing federal funds to Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics, in the event the Trump administration goes through with its intent to enact its Title X “gag rule,” prohibiting healthcare professionals from discussing abortion options with their patients.

“We will probably be looking very carefully at how we can affect legislation and how we can affect the appropriations process to make sure that women are still cared for across this country,” said Sherrill, speaking at a roundtable discussion at the Planned Parenthood center in Morristown.

Planned Parenthood in Morristown. Photo by Louise Witt
Planned Parenthood in Morristown. Photo by Louise Witt

Sherrill said she signed an Appropriations Committee letter requesting $400 million for family planning programs under Title X be included in the fiscal 2020 budget.

If the Trump administration implements its “gag rule” on May 3, 2019, Sherrill said Congress will explore other ways to provide funding for Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics.

“It’s about women’s healthcare,” Sherrill said.

Video by Louise Witt for MorristownGreen.com:

“The gag rule doesn’t just prevent Planned Parenthood from providing healthcare services, but it prevents all clinics from providing a full battery of healthcare services and (it prevents) doctors and patients from having the conversations that lead to better healthcare outcomes that they need to have. So, this is what Congress will be looking at doing.”

Separately, responding to a question about the Mueller report, which is scheduled for a Thursday release to Congress in redacted form, Sherrill said impeachment steps should not be necessary to prompt release of grand jury testimony from the special counsel’s investigation into alleged collusion with Russia.

“I think we need to go to a judge and ask that the judge allow Congress to see grand jury testimony,” said the former federal prosecutor. “This is preliminary fact-finding. So I certainly don’t think in any way that we need to start impeachment proceedings in order to see the Mueller report.”

Video by Louise Witt for MorristownGreen.com:

‘WHAT’S THE PROBLEM?’

The Trump administration’s so-called gag rule bans healthcare centers that receive Title X funding from informing patients where they can receive abortion services. The new rules also call for healthcare centers to physically and financially separate any abortion services from their other health services.

Under these new regulations, healthcare providers at one facility cannot refer patients to another one for abortions.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th Dist.), center, is flanked by activists Kaitlyn Wojtowicz, left, and Liliana Alcaide, at Planned Parenthood in Morristown, April 17, 2019. Photo by Louise Witt.
Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11th Dist.), center, is flanked by activists Kaitlyn Wojtowicz, left, and Liliana Alcaide, at Planned Parenthood in Morristown, April 17, 2019. Photo by Louise Witt.

Kaitlyn Wojtowicz, legislative and political director of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey, said Planned Parenthood will not stop providing abortion counseling to its patients, so it expects to lose all its Title X funding.

Like other family planning clinics, Planned Parenthood does not receive Title X funding for abortion services.

“This rule is unethical, contributes nothing to the safety of patients, and directly interferes with patients’ ability to get the best medical care and information possible,” Wojtowicz said.

For years, anti-abortion activists have pressed Congress to defund Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics, arguing that groups with any ties to abortion services shouldn’t receive federal funds.

“Abortion is not birth control and federal money should not be spent for the killing of unborn children,” said Susan O’Dougherty, president of Morris County Right to Life. “Planned Parenthood, we feel, has been lying to women for some time. They don’t give them all the options to them like natural birth control.”

Even though Planned Parenthood says it provides cancer screening, birth control, STD treatment and other healthcare services, O’Dougherty said the organization mainly provides abortions.

However, if Planned Parenthood wants to offer other services, they can continue doing so.

“Just do those other services,” O’Dougherty said. “What’s the problem? Go for it.”

Video by Louise Witt for MorristownGreen.com:

For almost 50 years, the Title X program has provided funding for affordable birth control and reproductive care. Title X ensures low-income people have access to contraception and other healthcare services. About four million patients across the country receive care funding through Title X. Two-thirds of those live below the federal poverty level and nearly half of them don’t have insurance.

In March, the Trump administration published a new regulation restoring Reagan-era restrictions on abortion services and Title X.

Title X funds have not directly provided funds for abortion services. However, if these rules are implemented, they will reduce the number of abortion service providers.

Title X provides $286 million in funding for programs such as birth control, breast cancer and cervical screening and sexual transmitted disease treatment. Planned Parenthood receives about 40 percent of Title X’s funding, Sherrill said.

‘I WAS PRETTY TERRIFIED’

In New Jersey, Planned Parenthood’s centers saw about 77,000 patients. The Morristown center had about 4,700 patients last year. Many of Planned Parenthood’s patients are young.

Cassie Allen, a student at Drew University in Madison and vice president of the Planned Parenthood Generation Action at the school, said if the rule forces healthcare centers to close it would have an impact on students’ access to reproductive services.

“At Drew, we only have one health center, and the only contraceptive service they provide is a single-prescription pill option, so a lot of people actually do rely on Planned Parenthood for their health services,” Allen said.

“So, knowing that for a lot of them their ability to get low-cost or fee health services is in jeopardy, this is really serious.”

Liliana Alcaide said she became a Planned Parenthood patient after she lost her full-time job and her health insurance. As a 24-year-old student at the time, she went to her gynecologist and discovered she had pre-cancerous cells in her cervix.

“I was pretty terrified,” she said. “But thanks to a Planned Parenthood activist and member, I was able to get all the help that I could get. That member guided me to the Title X program.”

“As a Title X patient, I am beyond grateful for these clinics,” Alcaide said. “I am 100 percent sure that if it weren’t for Planned Parenthood and Title X program, I wouldn’t be here sharing my story.”

Video by Louise Witt for MorristownGreen.com:

Casey Olesko, a spokeswoman for the Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey, expressed hope that Sherrill and other representatives can save federal funding for Planned Parenthood and other family health clinics.

“We hope folks fight and take action,” Olesko said.

Planned Parenthood, the American Medical Association, and 23 state attorneys general have filed challenges in federal court to block the new rules, claiming they violate the Constitution and federal law.

New Jersey residents know what will happen if funding to Planned Parenthood and other family planning clinics is cut, Sherrill said.

“In New Jersey, we know what will happen if the gag order goes through, because our last governor defunded Planned Parenthood,” Sherrill said. “Very quickly we saw the rates of STDs go up, we saw women who didn’t have access to basic healthcare services. So, it will be very damaging.”

As one of his first acts in office, Gov. Phil Murphy last February signed a bill to restore funding for family planning services, tests for sexual diseases, cancer screening and birth control at Planned Parenthood clinics and other centers. Gov. Chris Christie removed the funding in 2010.

Olesko noted: “We take one step forward and another step backwards.”

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