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Oklahoma cuts funding to Planned Parenthood clinics in Tulsa

October 06, 2012|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske
  • A crowd rallies in Austin, Texas, in March 2011 to support Planned Parenthood. Oklahoma, Texas' northern neighbor, is the most recent state to seek to eliminate federal funding for the abortion-rights group.
A crowd rallies in Austin, Texas, in March 2011 to support Planned Parenthood.… (Deborah Cannon / Austin…)

HOUSTON -- Oklahoma is withdrawing federal funding to three Planned Parenthood clinics in Tulsa following similar efforts by lawmakers in half a dozen other states.

Oklahoma State Department of Health officials have notified Planned Parenthood of the Heartland that at the end of December they would be terminating their contracts, federally funded through the Women, Infants and Children program.

This year, the clinics had received about $454,000 from the program.

“It was a business decision,” said Leslea Bennett-Webb, a spokeswoman for the state's health department told the Los Angeles Times.

Bennett-Webb said the decision was prompted by belt-tightening for federally funded programs, the fact that Planned Parenthood's cost per participant exceeded those of other Tulsa-area clinics and that an audit last fall showed their caseloads had dropped.

"There were performance issues," Terry Bryce, the chief of the health department's WIC Services division, told The Times.

Bennett-Webb said some of Tulsa County's other 14 WIC clinics were within a few miles of the Planned Parenthood sites, and Bryce said they should be able to absorb additional patients.

"We felt like the population that was seeking services at those clinics, it would not be too difficult of a transition to seek services at other WIC venues," Bennett-Webb said.

Planned Parenthood has come under fire from conservative lawmakers in a number of states recently that  have sought to eliminate the nonprofit organization's government funding.

At least six states have attempted to cut funding for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers, including Indiana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.

Last year, Indiana legislators passed a law eliminating Planned Parenthood federal funding, while Texas passed a law to exclude Planned Parenthood clinics from the state's Women's Health Program, which is mostly federally funded. Legal battles ensued, which have yet to be resolved.

Republicans currently control the Oklahoma state Llegislature and every statewide elected office, including Republican Gov. Mary Fallin.

Planned Parenthood officials noted that the Oklahoma clinics involved do not provide abortions, and said the cuts would hurt low-income patients and their families.

"We are currently still providing WIC services to the women and children who depend on us. But if this shortsighted decision stands, these mothers and young children will be forced to bear the consequences,” said Planned Parenthood of the Heartland Chief Executive Jill June in a statement. “We call on the state to allow us to continue to be a place Oklahoma women and families can trust for these health services. Politics should never interfere with a woman’s access to health services -- or food for her children.”

The trio of clinics average about 2,800 visits a month, about 17% of the county's total, according to health department figures.

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Twitter: @mollyhf

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