Published in The Oklahoma Daily on October 5, 2012
Our View: Oklahoma has once again target Planned Parenthood — and hungry mothers and children are caught in the crosshairs.
After a string of attempts, Oklahoma’s conservative bloc has finally managed to cut state ties with Planned Parenthood — by taking food out of the mouths of mothers and babies.
The Oklahoma State Department of Health announced in a Sept. 27 letter it would no longer fund Women, Infants and Children (better know as WIC) services through Planned Parenthood health centers in the Tulsa area. The WIC program provides food vouchers to economically disadvantaged pregnant women, babies and children under 5 years old and mothers of young children.
Many women and children rely on this funding for access to healthy food. Planned Parenthood has been one of the limited number of distributors of this service for 18 years. In Oklahoma, nearly 3,000 women and children visit Planned Parenthood centers for these vouchers each month, according to Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.
The Health Department reports more than half of all babies born in Oklahoma rely on WIC benefits for their food. Reducing the number of distribution sites for this service, which are already limited, harms the most vulnerable members of society. And it’s all because of politics.
Planned Parenthood has been targeted nationally by conservative politicians because some of its centers provide abortion services. But the majority of Planned Parenthood’s services are other kinds of health services, including essential preventative care for men and women, which are made available at reduced costs. The Planned Parenthood centers in Oklahoma don’t even provide abortion services.
These facts have obviously escaped some of Oklahoma’s lawmakers, who have attacked the organization multiple times over the past few years. In 2011, Republicans in the state House of Representatives unsuccessfullyattempted to amend a nutrition bill for seniors with a measure that would restrict private contractors like Planned Parenthood from distributing WIC funds.
Then, in February, House Republicans authored a bill that would have moved Planned Parenthood to the back of the line for state funding. The bill failed to pass.
It seems those efforts have finally paid off.
Of course, the Health Department denies this decision was politically motivated. It claims the decision not to renew Planned Parenthood’s contract, which will now end on Dec. 31, was made for “business reasons.” The department said in a statement, “This is a renewal period, and the agency has taken the option not to renew based on the needs of the Health Department, the contractor’s performance and funding availability.”
But given recent strenuous efforts to cut off Planned Parenthood, it’s difficult to believe political pressure had no influence on this decision.
Now, because those in power have been so eager to collect political points by attacking a vital medical organization for its tenuous link to abortion, thousands of mothers and their children will be forced to seek their WIC benefits from other, less convenient sources.
This doesn’t necessarily mean driving a few more blocks. These families are not likely to have a reliable means of transportation, so many will be relying on public transportation in a state not exactly know for it. Many will be single mothers, and some will not have access to affordable childcare. What might be a small inconvenience to a middle-class family could be an overwhelming obstacle.
Not to mention Planned Parenthood of the Heartland has announced there is a possibility the clinics affected may have to close because of the loss of funding. That means these women also will lose access to essential affordable medical services, such as prenatal and pediatric care.
Oklahoma’s mothers and children need your help. Call, email, write, tweet or post a Facebook message to spread the word and urge the officials listed here to work to reverse the decision.
As the state with the nation’s eighth worst hunger problem, where one in five children live in poverty, Oklahoma cannot afford to put misguided and misplaced political attacks above a mother’s need to feed her children.