A Planned Parenthood affiliate in New York is leaving the organization rather than comply with a policy that all affiliates must offer on-site abortions, fueling hopes among anti-abortion activists of a split within the abortion-rights movement. But the move is an isolated one that has nothing to do with political battles, officials of the family planning organization say, and the policy appears likely to take effect in the new year with little disruption.
The decision last week by Planned Parenthood of South Central New York to go independent comes as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America is fighting legislative attempts in several states to bar it from receiving state health funds because the organization provides abortions.
Planned Parenthood oversees 74 regional affiliates that operate about 800 offices and clinics across the country. The affiliates don't provide a standard menu of services, however, leading Planned Parenthood in late 2010 to issue a directive requiring them to offer a roster of core services — including cancer screenings and HIV testing in addition to on-site abortions — in at least one of their locations by 2013.
Matt Yonke, a spokesman for the Pro-Life Action League, an anti-abortion group, said the decision by the New York affiliate highlighted that some Planned Parenthood workers were "deeply uncomfortable with what goes on inside their workplace" and were being backed into a corner.
"No matter what conglomeration of services your Planned Parenthood affiliate provides, it had better provide abortion, or you're out because that's what Planned Parenthood does," he wrote last week on the group's website.
Calling the New York chapter "the latest affiliate to become independent because it won't comply with the rule," the anti-abortion group Susan B. Anthony List said in a statement that the policy was being resisted by local affiliates and was "the ultimate evidence that Planned Parenthood's chief concern is making money off abortion — not the health of vulnerable women and girls."
Interviews with affiliate officials, however, undermine the contention that Planned Parenthood is being torn apart from within.
The New York chapter, which will become Family Planning of South Central New York on March 1, is only the third known to have "disaffiliated" itself from Planned Parenthood because of the new policy in the two years since it was approved, and it said its reasons were financial, not philosophical.
Ingrid Husisian, a spokeswoman for the affiliate, which operates five clinics in the Binghamton and Oneonta region, said there were several providers of abortions in her operating area to whom the affiliate can refer clients, and "if we comply with the on-site mandate, we would be duplicating services already provided in the counties we serve."
That raised the prospect of "creating competition that may financially hurt our local doctors," Husisian said, adding that the local group would "absolutely" offer on-site abortions if those other providers weren't nearby.
The two other affiliates known to have left specifically because of the policy also said their departures weren't political.
Tri-Rivers Planned Parenthood, based in Rolla, Mo., became Tri-Rivers Family Planning last year because "it was just not financially possible" to meet all of the new policy's requirements, said Lisa Davis, the organization's education director.
"We had no trouble with the list" Planned Parenthood mandated, Davis said.
Planned Parenthood of the Coastal Bend, based in Corpus Christi, Texas, left the national organization immediately when the policy was approved two years ago, becoming Family Planning of the Coastal Bend. Officials didn't respond to requests for comment this week, but when the group left, it said it didn't see a need to duplicate services already obtainable in the area.
Calling it old news, Planned Parenthood officials complained that the mandate had been "sensationalized" by anti-abortion activists spotlighting of the New York affiliate's announcement.
Lost in the polarized discussion, they said, was that the abortion requirement was only one part of a broader initiative covering many reproductive health services at every Planned Parenthood affiliate — some of which cover large regions in rural states where family planning services are in short supply.
Eric Ferrer, vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, acknowledged that one of those "core" services was on-site abortions, which about 10 percent of affiliates didn't previously offer. (Agency officials said nearly all of those affiliates, which currently refer clients to other local abortion providers, had already complied or were on track to do so.)
The other services have little to do with abortion, officials said, noting that the list also includes "well-woman" exams, cancer screenings, HIV and STD testing for both sexes and vaccination against the human pappilomavirus. Ferrer said the list was intended to reassure clients that they could count on "a consistent set of services at all health centers."
Davis, of Tri-Rivers Family Planning, stressed that her affiliate's move was a "business model decision; it wasn't a political thing. "We are still a pro-choice organization," she said. "We are totally aligned with Planned Parenthood."
Family Planning of South Central New York also "continues to support the mission of Planned Parenthood," Husisian said, adding: "We're going to do what we do great and let (other local abortion providers) do what they do great."
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