Lyons (left): "Planned Parenthood... refers 90% of the pregnant women it sees to abortion clinics." Safar (right): Lyons "is mixing all kinds of numbers."
Wisconsin Right to Life worked hard to eliminate state funding for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin in the last biennial budget. So the group was delighted at the news this week that four Planned Parenthood family planning clinics around the state were closing due to the loss of this aid.
"Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin is the state's largest abortion provider and, nationally, refers over 90% of the pregnant women it sees to abortion clinics," Barbara Lyons, executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life, said in a news release (PDF). "The closure of four feeders to Planned Parenthood's three Wisconsin abortion clinics is excellent news."
Nurse practitioner Deb Lidbury, who has worked for 25 years at Planned Parenthood's Shawano clinic, scheduled to close April 19, was appalled at Lyons' description of the health centers she has devoted much of her life to.
"That's not only inaccurate but disrespectful of all the positive things those clinics have provided in their communities," says Lidbury.
Stephanie Wilson, a spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, took it one step further. "It's not only inaccurate, it would be illegal," she says of Lyons' accusation that the group's health centers "feed" clients to their abortion clinics.
State law prohibits any organization that receives public money from referring for abortions, confirms Nicole Safar, public policy director for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.
But Sue Armacost, legislative and PAC director of Wisconsin Right to Life, says it is "baloney" that there are firewalls between Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin's 27 family planning clinics and its three abortion centers.
"Planned Parenthood refers women to their own clinics for abortion," she says. "Who are they going to refer them to? A competing clinic? Absolutely not. They are in the abortion business."
This is a key claim, providing much of the ammunition statewide and nationally for the anti-abortion push to defund Planned Parenthood programs.Safar says counselors at their family planning centers provide information on abortion, adoption and prenatal care to clients as part of their "all-options" counseling, but in accordance with state law do not schedule appointments for abortions on site.
Lyons say Planned Parenthood Federation of America's own 2011 annual report backs up her claim that 90% of the pregnant women seen nationally at Planned Parenthood facilities are referred for abortions. You get to that figure, she says, by adding together the number of adoption referrals made (28,674), prenatal care referrals made (2,300) and abortions performed (333,964), and then dividing that by the number of abortions performed.
Lyons acknowledges that she makes no distinction between family planning centers -- where abortion services are not provided -- and abortion clinics in her analysis, saying, "It doesn't make a difference."
Lyons allows that in calculating the number of pregnant women served, she's mixing apples (statistics on referrals) and oranges (statistics on actual services). And she admits these numbers do not provide evidence that Planned Parenthood family planning health centers "feed" clients to their abortion clinics.
"No, the numbers are not associated," she says.
Evidence for the "feeder concept," she says, comes from Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin's 2010 annual report.
In it, she says, the group lists no adoption referrals and no prenatal referrals.
No referrals are listed because Wisconsin's Planned Parenthood does not track referrals for adoption or prenatal care, says Safar. The Wisconsin affiliate also doesn't provide prenatal services, though some other affiliates do.
Lyons, she says, "is mixing all kinds of numbers from dozens of different state affiliates, all operating under different state laws and providing community-based services that are not necessarily the same."
Safar also says that women are referred to Planned Parenthood's abortion clinics from a variety of sources. In Wisconsin, she says, primary care physicians refer women for abortion services "all the time because primary care physicians don't offer the service."
Although Gov. Scott Walker's first budget cut $1.9 million in state funding for family planning services in 50 counties, the Joint Finance Committee later restored 90%, or $1.71 million of that. But there was a catch.
New rules put in place meant that only public entities could receive the funds and that they, in turn, could not distribute them to any groups that provide abortion, make referrals for abortions, or have an "affiliate that provides abortion services or makes referrals for abortion services."
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin was the clear target of that new language. As a result, it says, the organization lost an annual $1.1 million in funding that helped pay upkeep on nine of its family planning clinics. After trying to make ends meet for more than a year without state funding, Safar says, Planned Parenthood decided that clinics in Beaver Dam, Johnson Creek, Chippewa Falls and Shawano would need to close by this summer.
Planned Parenthood says these closures will mean a loss of more than 11,400 health care services for about 2,000 patients who get birth control, cancer screenings, annual exams, STD testing and treatment, and pregnancy tests.
Lidbury, the nurse practitioner, says Planned Parenthood clinics give patients the kind of care and information they don't get elsewhere.
"When patients come in for their annual exam, we're not just doing a pelvic exam. We are actually doing a total physical exam. Particularly when you have low-income patients, we might be the only ones checking their thyroid, or heart and lungs.
"They appreciate that someone is interested in them and what their issues are," says Lidbury.