The internet has behaved like a sugar-addled three year old with a piñata over the recent battle to remove funding from Planned Parenthood, not-for-profit provider of reproductive, maternal and child health services in the US. The debate reached a new level when a series of heavily edited videos were published claiming Planned Parenthood sold aborted foetal tissue for profit.
Planned Parenthood has 820 clinics across the United States, serving 2.7 million people a year. Surprisingly, abortion only makes up only 3% of the services they provide. The overwhelming majority of their services involve provision of information, advice, testing and treatment around sexual health, and administering contraception. Defunding Planned Parenthood would invariably reduce access to these vital services.
There is evidence that when sexual health and reproductive health services are cut, there are consequent increases in reproductive and sexual ill health. For example, the state of Louisiana, which has just defunded Planned Parenthood, has amongst the highest recorded levels of STIs in the US - first for gonorrhoea, second for chlamydia and third in syphilis and HIV. In Louisiana last year, Planned Parenthood administered approximately 20,000 tests for STI infections. It is, as yet, unclear as to how the governor proposes tests are now carried out.
In the UK the outlook is different. Our political system isn’t exposed to the same pressure. Schools don’t teach abstinence as a single sexual health choice and access to sexual health services is provided by the NHS and its partners (like SH:24) as well as private providers. However, demand for sexual health services remains high (there were 440,000 STI diagnoses in 2014). The UK public health budget will face a two hundred million pound reduction in this year. The Advisory Group on Contraception have reported that restrictions to sexual health services alone could cost the NHS £250m this year.
In Lambeth and Southwark, sexual health services already experience high demand. The boroughs have some of the highest incidences of sexually transmitted infections in Europe and there can be long queues outside clinics for walk-in services. The NHS Five Year Forward View suggests we “exploit the information revolution”, delivering services through mobile phones. It’s a logical step and the NHS is starting to get grips with how it can integrate digital offerings with its current provision. SH:24 aims to migrate a large proportion of sexual health testing through self-testing kits ordered online.
Planned Parenthood’s spending is largely concentrated on the prevention of avoidable illness. In the UK too, these services are crucial to reducing spending further down the line. Our next development will provide extensive information and support around a wider range of reproductive and sexual health issues including fertility, contraception, other STIs and more. By accessing our services people will can self-manage their sexual health whilst having access to clinical professionals. It is our hope this will increase people’s decision-making ability in matters of sexual health, lead to a decrease in numbers of people having risky sex and effect lasting behavioural change.
Tomorrow is World Contraception Day, a campaign promoted by a host of global sexual and reproductive health organisations. It’s clear the need for reproductive and sexual health services isn’t going to evaporate any time soon - people will always need accessible, non-judgemental information and support to make informed choices, proactively and when things don’t go as planned and for this reason, we stand with Planned Parenthood.