New Orleans is in desperate need of a new Planned Parenthood clinic. The current one is housed in a small, converted one-story house that only has two exam rooms and operates at mass capacity. The need for better facilities is great, because Louisiana has some of the highest STI and unintended pregnancy rates in the country. In New Orleans, lasting damage from Hurricane Katrina means that the need for quality, low cost care is particularly high. Planned Parenthood fully intends to step up its game and help meet this demand, hoping to build a 7,000 square foot, state-of-the-art facility in New Orleans that will cost $4.2 million. It was supposed to be built by now, actually, offering affordable Pap smears and contraception to thousands of New Orleans residents, but the lot it was meant to be built on remains empty.
Jill Filipovic of Cosmopolitan investigated the situation to find out why and learned that anti-choice forces have waged war on Planned Parenthood, scaring off anyone in the community that might make this new clinic a reality.
New Orleans is a Catholic town, and the powerful church is a major owner of land and buildings in the city. The state and federal governments gave hundreds of millions of dollars to the church for post-Katrina building efforts, and money for church-led construction projects keeps pouring in. But in a letter printed in the archdiocese’s newspaper in January 2014, Archbishop Gregory Aymond made himself clear: Help build that clinic, and you’ll never work in this town again.
Aymond threatened that the church would actively shut off any business to anyone who ever helped build this new Planned Parenthood. “With their ability to work on dozens of future schools, nursing homes, and other church-financed projects on the line, many New Orleans contractors decided working on one Planned Parenthood clinic wasn’t worth the sacrifice,” Filipovic writes.
Anti-choicers deny that this is about keeping residents from getting quality care. “The coalition says the clinic is unnecessary, pointing to 22 other facilities in the greater New Orleans area that provide at least some of those services,” Filipovic writes. But if those clinics were enough, then Planned Parenthood wouldn’t be currently overrun with demand. Which is no wonder, as Louisiana has one of the highest rates of uninsured residents in the country.
The current Planned Parenthood doesn’t offer abortion, but the new one would, helping meet the need of women who have been deprived by increasingly draconian abortion regulations. But Aymond’s hostility to reproductive health care is about more than abortion: He has, in the past, threatened to bar the Girl Scouts from ever using church facilities if they participated in a sex education conference held by Planned Parenthood, even though abortions were definitely not happening at the conference.
Contraception and sex education are often negatively affected when anti-choicers go after abortion access in the state. Citing abortion as an excuse, the legislature in Louisiana passed a law barring Planned Parenthood from providing sex education in the state. Despite its sky-high STI rates, the state keeps slashing funding for STI prevention programs. And those alternative clinics you can supposedly go to for care? Good luck with that. “Under Gov. Bobby Jindal, many state-funded facilities that have for generations provided primary care options including vaccinations and family planning, scaled back services and even closed across the state,” Filipovic writes.
This is part of a nationwide trend of conservatives invoking the word “abortion” to justify what are actually attacks on reproductive health care, or an attempt to limit general health care access for low income Americans. Hollering over abortion very nearly derailed the Affordable Care Act and House Republicans once again used “abortion” as justification for a bill that actually prevents people from accessing federal subsidies and tax cuts for their insurance plans. The word “abortion” was tossed around a lot to justify attacks on insurance coverage of contraception during the Hobby Lobby case, as well, even though the drugs and devices in question all work by preventing pregnancy. And here we see it again in New Orleans. Lots of talk about “abortion,” but when you look at the details, the result is that low income people are being forced to accept a lower quality of medical care.