HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The Mississippi Senate voted to stop state funding to Planned Parenthood.
"It simply says that no state Medicaid dollars may be used to fund family planning services, which would include abortion and any other number of family planning services offered at Planned Parenthood," said Sen. Joey Fillingane, who authored Senate Bill 2238. "The idea that we would take state tax dollars, which these are, and provide to an entity like Planned Parenthood, which is the number one abortion provider in the country, is just mind blowing. I can't believe that we would do it, and when I found out that we were in fact making some small reimbursements to Planned Parenthood in Mississippi, I just had to file a bill."
Currently, the only Planned Parenthood clinic in Mississippi is in Hattiesburg, and it does not perform abortions. Fillingane said even though the Mississippi's clinic doesn't offer abortions, any monetary support the state gives would still be supporting abortions.
"They provide family planning services, which is a nice, tidy way of saying, you know, 'we can suggest to young women, even underage women, that come and see us that if they so choose, they might want to terminate this pregnancy in Jackson at the clinic there or in New Orleans or Mobile and these other towns close by that would be relatively easy to get to from Hattiesburg, that if you don't want to keep this baby, you should go to an abortion clinic.' I mean, those are the types of services they can provide," Fillingane said. "The truth of the matter is all of the money goes into the same pot, so if I'm giving you state tax dollars to do A or B, the other C factor, which in this example would be abortion, is still being supported because it's the same company providing all the services."
Fillingane said the bill doesn't restrict women's health services because Mississippi women can receive similar services from other health agencies.
"There are many other non-Planned Parenthood clinics and agencies that can provide these other services that the critics want to talk about," Fillingane said. "So it's not as though you're denying any services to, you know, poor women or women that can't afford these treatments. They can go to the local health departments and get the same type of service that they can get at this clinic. The only difference is The Mississippi Department of Health and the health clinics are not also providing abortions, and so the monies that we send to those agencies do not also subsidize abortions in the state or in this country."
However, Planned Parenthood's Public Policy Director for the Southeastern region Felicia Brown-Williams said the Hattiesburg Planned Parenthood provides vital services that can't be received everywhere.
"What we know is that Mississippi is already facing a health provider shortage, and many providers will not accept Medicaid patients so we are there for the community in Hattiesburg as a healthcare provider that does accept Medicaid for family planning," she said. "What we're seeing right now is that the department of health is barely able to make its own payroll, and is shutting down health centers."
Brown-Williams also said women and their health is being left out of the legislature, so she wasn't surprised the bill passed.
"We have seen that this legislature is very much anti-women's health and anti-women and families," she said. "There are so many things that they are doing that are to the detriment to women and families in our community, so I can't say I was necessarily surprised. These legislators should be doing everything in their power to increase access to healthcare. Instead, the senate is attacking us, a trusted healthcare provider who's been around for nearly 100 years and decreasing access to healthcare for the people who need it the most, and that doesn't make any sense at all."
Fillingane said, ""We have so many needs and uses for our tax dollars that we can all agree on, be it K-12 education, community and junior college education, IHL- institutions of higher learning, be it transportation, policemen, bridges, roads, any number of things we can all agree on."
Brown-Williams said, "One thing we should all be able to agree on is that family planning is a good thing for our community, so it is really disappointing to see the reaction from the legislature to defund us for that work. This is about politics. This has nothing to do with the women and the communities that we serve, which are in Sen. Filingane's very own backyard. So he is actively working against his own constituents accessing the healthcare they need."
Fillingane said he expects the bill to be approved by the House and the bill to eventually become a law.
"I absolutely expect it to pass," Fillingane said. "I mean, Mississippi is a very conservative, God-fearing state, and even some of the Democrats in our chamber, which, people typically think of Democrats as more liberal, but here in Mississippi, even many of your democrats are very pro-life and are very conservative by comparison to the national Democratic Party. We had a bipartisan vote."
Brown-Williams said if the bill does pass the house, Planned Parenthood will likely look at legal options.
"Alabama did this last year, and we sued them," she said. "And they ended up losing. And they ended up having to pay $50,000 in legal fees because they lost. Medicaid explicitly prohibits this kind of action on the place of legislatures. You cannot keep providers out of the Medicaid program based on other services that they provide."