A Message from Trump’s Supporters: Don’t Defund Planned Parenthood

In early December, Planned Parenthood Action Fund commissioned a series of in-depth conversations with nearly 50 voters in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Arizona and Nevada — a majority of them people who voted for Donald Trump. After a recent Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and POLITICO poll showed that 48% of Trump supporters backed funding for the cancer screenings, birth control, STD testing and treatment, and other preventive services provided by Planned Parenthood, we wanted to find out how they would feel if Congress and the new administration spent their first weeks in office working to defund Planned Parenthood.

The reaction was overwhelming: Nearly every single person was angry and disappointed.

As one Trump voter in Phoenix put it, if Donald Trump signed a bill to defund Planned Parenthood, “[I’d] start looking for a new candidate for four years from now.” That voter won’t be alone.

The reaction from focus group participants — and from millions of people standing with Planned Parenthood — shouldn’t surprise anyone. An estimated one in five women in the U.S. have been to Planned Parenthood for care. Trump voters in Las Vegas and Milwaukee spoke openly about their own experiences coming to Planned Parenthood — like all of Planned Parenthood patients, they came to get care, not to make a political statement.

Given the importance of this care and the unpopularity of attacking a 100 year old health care organization that provides care for 2.5 million patients a year, you might wonder why this would be the top priority for the new Congress or administration.

The answer? Incoming Vice President Mike Pence and HHS Secretary nominee Tom Price, for whom attacking Planned Parenthood has been an obsession. Even before President-elect Trump is sworn in, anti-women’s health politicians in Congress have threatened to introduce a bill to cut all of the Medicaid reimbursements low-income patients use to come to Planned Parenthood health centers. More than half of Planned Parenthood’s 2.5 million patients rely on public health programs like Medicaid and the Title X family planning program to get care. Those patients choose to come to Planned Parenthood, and just like every other hospital or doctor’s office, Planned Parenthood health centers are reimbursed for exactly the care they provide.

After reading about Mike Pence’s record of attacking Planned Parenthood, the right to abortion and critical services like HIV care, a Trump supporter in Arizona said, “I’m astounded. I guess I’ve been living in a bubble. He [Pence] sounds like a tyrant.”

It is worth pointing out that none of the funding these politicians are threatening has anything to do with abortion, because except in very limited cases, Medicaid funds can only be used for these non-abortion services — a restrictive and discriminatory policy that Planned Parenthood does not support.

If Republicans in Congress vote to defund Planned Parenthood — as they have tried to do 9 times in the past 18 months — they will block these patients from getting the care they need. Women who have nowhere else to go for cancer screenings, mothers taking care of themselves so they can care for their families, young people protecting themselves with birth control and STD testing so they can start careers or finish their education, people of color who already face barriers in accessing health care. Republicans, Democrats and Independents will all be affected.

Defunding Planned Parenthood doesn’t strike a line in the federal budget (reminder: there is no line). It does mean millions of people can no longer come to Planned Parenthood for critical services — and based on all the evidence they will pay the price with their health.

Most Trump voters in the focus groups were shocked that access to preventive health care at Planned Parenthood was an issue that Congress was even considering — and certainly as the top of the agenda for the first 100 days. One Trump voter in Harrisburg, Pa., said, “The guy I voted for, I’d be disappointed if he signed it… [because] he’s making sure Congress is on his side, but he doesn’t care about all us people who voted for him.”

Whether you agree with his proposals or not (and I disagree with most) — Donald Trump claimed he would “drain the swamp” and end business as usual in Washington. Attacking Planned Parenthood is the definition of business of usual, bogged down in ten years of Mike Pence’s political agenda.

If he listens to his own supporters, President-elect Trump will choose to take a higher road.