Sanity Prevails in Oklahoma, For Now

After facing strong opposition to a targeted attack on Planned Parenthood's WIC program, Oklahoma's legislators have allowed a bill threatening the health of needy infants and children to die in committee.

This article was amended at 4:23 pm on Thursday, May 26th to delete a sentence that included both one outdated statistic and one current statistic found earlier in the article.

In a sign that–perhaps, maybe–the extreme right’s extremist attacks on the rights and health of women and children may have some limits, the Oklahoma legislature today allowed a bill to die in committee which, if passed, would have denied food vouchers and nutrition services to prenatal and pediatric clients served by Planned Parenthood of Tulsa County.

The amendment, attached to SB 709, would have defunded Planned Parenthood’s Women Infant and Children (WIC) program in Oklahoma. Had it been passed, it would have prohibited independent contractors from participating in the federal WIC program, which provides the vouchers for food and other nutritional support to women and families at risk.  Technically, it applied to nine organizations providing WIC services, but, as floor debate on and changes subsequently sought by authors of the measure made clear, it was a targeted attack on Planned Parenthood itself.

According to Tulsa World, for example, after lawmakers found that out that agencies other than Planned Parenthood would be affected, “the amendment’s author went to work to come up with language that spare[d] the other contractors while still taking WIC away from Planned Parenthood.” Planned Parenthood of Tulsa County serves 9,300 WIC clients who would have been forced to try to obtain nutrition services and support elsewhere. As Tulsa World pointed out: “For a mother of limited means, that could prove an extreme hardship and could mean some will have to drop out of the program.”

In Tulsa, Planned Parenthood last year also provided about 5,600 pediatric care appointments and about 3,000 prenatal visits, among other primary health services it provides. Some of those contacts were with the same women and children currently receiving WIC through Planned Parenthood. Why not make their lives a little easier by letting them continue to receive all those services in one place?

Here’s why: Because the foes of Planned Parenthood can win political points by saying, “We kicked Planned Parenthood out of WIC.” The fact poor mothers and babies would be made to suffer as a result is an inconsequential by-product that doesn’t matter to them.

Planned Parenthood in Tulsa County has provided prenatal services to pregnant women  for over 20 years, and began providing full pediatric services 15 years ago when women and their families found it difficult to find a physician that had any openings.

Patients of Planned Parenthood in Tulsa rely on PPOK for prenatal services and later, full pediatric programs, which include immunizations, early screenings for hearing, vision, speech, physical and social development, and general health care.

“Funding from the WIC program is critical to achieving healthy outcomes for Planned Parenthood’s prenatal care clients who badly need the nutrition and food vouchers provided by WIC to ensure healthy babies,” according to Planned Parenthood.

After birth, WIC staff weighs, measures and tracks babies’ growth, and provide food vouchers to parents for their babies – and their babies’ siblings – to ensure healthy growth and development.

Tulsa World pointed out the hypocrisy of the “pro-life” agenda.

“In kicking Planned Parenthood out of the WIC program, lawmakers won’t be punishing Planned Parenthood. They’ll be punishing poor women who chose to have their babies and are trying to take care of them.”

But advocates mounted an extensive campaign opposing the bill, and succeeded in getting lawmakers to kill the bill. Earlier this month 150 Planned Parenthood supporters gathered at the Capital to express concern for Oklahoma women and families.

“We are extremely pleased that legislators in the State Senate and House have decided to end their dangerous political assault on the health of Oklahoma families,” said Nancy Kachel, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma.

“It is clear that the people of Oklahoma had no appetite for a bill that would have taken away much-need food vouchers from infants and children. This targeted political attack would have prevented Planned Parenthood from providing critical prenatal and pediatric care to women and children in Tulsa County. Allowing this bill to die has prevented what would have been a devastating impact on thousands of families.”

This is a critical victory in the ongoing war on the health and lives of women and children being waged by the GOP and Tea Parties in states across the country, and one that comes at a time when Oklahoma has become known as one of the worst states for safe-guarding reproductive and sexual health of its citizens.