For continuing coverage of how COVID-19 is affecting reproductive health, check out our Special Report.
Congressional Republicans have been on a never-ending quest to make sure Planned Parenthood goes broke—now, they’re using a federal relief funding program to try to accomplish that mission during the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and 25 other Republican senators signed a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr requesting an investigation into the dozens of Planned Parenthood clinics that received federal relief funding. They accuse Planned Parenthood of knowing it was ineligible for PPP loans, stating, “fraudulent loan applications can trigger both civil and criminal penalties.” The letter comes after the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which approves and distributes the PPP loans, requested the money back from the clinics.
Under the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which was created to alleviate financial strains small businesses have faced during the pandemic, 38 Planned Parenthood affiliates received more than $80 million. Planned Parenthood said its affiliates are independent from the national office, with separate finances, leadership, and governance and therefore eligible for the PPP, CBS News reported.
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The pandemic has hurt Planned Parenthood like it has every organization or business impacted by public health restrictions meant to stop the virus’ spread. In Illinois, Planned Parenthood consolidated its services to six clinics, which led to temporarily closing 11 of its clinics in the state. Planned Parenthood of Greater New York has temporarily closed 11 of its 28 clinics and furloughed hundreds of workers during the pandemic. At the Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, receiving a PPP loan of just over $2,000 has meant all staff members—over 180 of them—have maintained full employment, according to CBS News.
Republicans’ outrage at Planned Parenthood clinics receiving financial help from the government during a pandemic stands in stark contrast to their state and federal policies crafted explicitly to funnel government funds into clinics that mislead and lie to pregnant people about their reproductive health-care options.
Meanwhile, abortion rights opponents encouraged at least 1,800 anti-choice clinics, also known as crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), to apply for PPP funding, since SBA rules allows faith-based nonprofits like CPCs to apply for assistance. Anti-choice clinics aren’t licensed medical facilities, and staffers adamantly advocate against abortion, using scare tactics like propaganda videos and imagery, shameful language, and sometimes outright lying about gestational ages of pregnancies. Yet these clinics aren’t being asked to return any federal funding, which makes it clear that Republicans see the pandemic not as a public health crisis but as an opportunity to destroy abortion access in the United States.
Unfortunately, using government funds to undermine legitimate reproductive health care doesn’t stop with the funding of anti-choice clinics. Last year, some of these clinics modified the scope of their services to include ultrasounds, STI testing, and even contraception in hopes of qualifying for federal Title X funds that after proposed changes by the Trump administration would allow businesses that don’t provide abortion referrals to receive Title X funding, essentially redirecting federal family planning money to clinics run by anti-choice activists.
Conservatives have said Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide abortion care shouldn’t receive federal dollars because they only offer abortion services, or that urging people to have abortions is their primary mission. But abortion clinics provide options counseling—something abortion rights opponents don’t like to acknowledge. Unlike the counseling one would receive at an anti-choice clinic, abortion providers offer unbiased options counseling. When someone has made the decision to have an abortion, instead of judgment, they’ll receive factual, evidence-based information—aside from the misinformation many states force doctors to provide patients—in addition to accessing the abortion care (and other health services) they need.
Republican lawmakers have long subsidized anti-choice clinics, weaponizing public funds against people seeking comprehensive health care while depriving actual reproductive health-care organizations of the funding they need to survive. Their demands for the SBA to take back Planned Parenthood’s PPP funding is just their latest attempt to undermine health-care organizations that provide actual health care.