Planned Parenthood closures present new challenges

By Alison Dirr

This week six Planned Parenthood clinics closed in greater Minnesota.

The closings, due primarily to cuts in federal funding to all family planning institutions covered by the federal Title X program, will affect about 4,500 patients throughout the state. Clinics in Owatonna, Red Wing, Fairmont, Brainerd, Thief River Falls and Albert Lea are now closed.

According to the Planned Parenthood website, the clinics provided emergency contraception, pregnancy and HIV testing, birth control pill refills and other services.

The closings were based on the number of patients in each office and the clinics’ proximity to other Planned Parenthood offices, according to Sarah Williams, the regional public relations director for Planned Parenthood.

“We tried to mitigate the pain as much as possible for our patients and it was, of course, very hard to do,” she said. “There were very hard decisions to make. These clinics have been serving these communities for 40 years, since the Title X program was established.”

Despite such efforts women seeking Planned Parenthood services will feel the effects of the closures, Williams said.

Brainerd Mayor James Wallin expressed the same sentiment, saying that Planned Parenthood was well utilized in the community. Wallin said he was sure those patients would find an alternative, but did not know where.

“I think those in need of those services are going to find some venue or some area where they can get help, and I’m hoping they do because there are a lot of people out there who are in need of those services,” he said. “I’m not aware of anything real close locally that will fill in that gap.”

The distance to other Planned Parenthood clinics will prove most challenging to those patients at the Thief River Falls office, Williams said. Medical records from that clinic will be transferred to the Bemidji location, which is almost 100 miles away.

Kate Lynne Snyder, a former patient at that clinic, said when she was in high school she and many of her classmates sought out Planned Parenthood to educate themselves about their reproductive health.

According to Planned Parenthood, the Thief River Falls location served 552 patients in 2010, 14 percent of whom were under 18 years old. Planned Parenthood officials also reported that 81 percent of Thief River Falls patients were below the federal poverty level.

Williams noted that the difference between other women’s health clinics and Planned Parenthood is that much of the care Planned Parenthood provides is subsidized.

“Our patients are largely uninsured and most are at or below the federal poverty level and so they need subsidized care,” she said.

Citing such economic issues, Snyder said it may be difficult for the young women of Thief River Falls to travel to other Planned Parenthood locations.

“Some women will do it, but i don’t think everyone will,” she said. “I don’t think that a 15-year-old girl will be able to get somebody to drive her out there without having some sort of finagling going on.”