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Planned Parenthood: 'We're In the Fight of Our Lives'

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Hannah Brass Greer took a pause and leaned in. Her voice was measured; her tone was unmistakably crisp.

"We're in the fight of our lives," said Greer, the newly-promoted legal counsel for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and Hawaii. "That said, the current political climate can't change our values or how we go about doing our work. It has been, and always will be, about the patient."

Planned Parenthood has weathered countless political storms in its 100-year history, but on his third day in office, President Donald Trump reinstated the Mexico City Policy—first enacted in 1984—which states the U.S. will not "contribute to international NGOs which perform or actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations." The message was clear: Trump and the Republican-dominated Congress have Planned Parenthood in their crosshairs.

How this might reverberate at the Idaho Statehouse, where a Republican supermajority has an iron grip on both the House and Senate, has pro-choice advocates keeping a close watch.

"Exactly how that might emerge as actual legislation during the current session remains to be seen, but it's fair to say the Republican majority is emboldened by Trump," said Mistie Tolman, Idaho legislative director for Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii. "I think they may try things they wouldn't have attempted before because of the rise of the Trump administration. For example, you may have already heard about what Senator Foreman wants to do."

Freshman Idaho Sen. Dan Foreman (R-Moscow) stunned even some of his GOP colleagues when he announced he would sponsor a measure to classify abortion as first-degree murder. Under his proposed legislation, both patient and physician would be culpable.

"I can tell you that I've already talked with a few Idaho senators about this, and they're just not willing to entertain something like this," said Tolman. "It's just too extreme, even for our state."

Brandi Swindell, founder of Stanton Healthcare, a system of anti-abortion women's clinics, thinks Foreman's proposal is wrongheaded.

"I would never, ever support anything like that," said Swindell in a phone call from Washington, D.C., where she was meeting with members of the Idaho congressional delegation and other lawmakers. "We would never support women being criminalized or thrown in jail. I also happen to think Foreman's proposal is inherently sexist."

While in Washington, Swindell also participated in the Jan. 27 anti-abortion March for Life on the National Mall, marking the 44th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade, which decriminalized abortion.

"I've never seen the country so divided, particularly here in D.C.," she said. "One weekend it's the Women's March, the next weekend it's the March for Life."

Though Swindell is one of Idaho's highest-profile anti-abortion advocates, she is "cautiously optimistic" about the Trump presidency.

"He hasn't exactly been consistent when it comes to Right to Life. Before he was a candidate, Trump was pro-choice; but, during his candidacy, he worked hard to build trust with the pro-life movement," she said. "Then he picked Mike Pence as his running mate, the most pro-life vice president we've ever seen. Do I think we can get some good things accomplished with the Trump administration? I do, but I'm cautious."

Greer has also been monitoring the rhetoric coming from the White House and Capitol Hill.

"For instance, you may have heard about how Republicans say they want to defund Planned Parenthood. That's not actually something that exists. It's not as if anyone on Capitol Hill is writing a big check each year to fund Planned Parenthood—but not everyone understands that," she said. "We continue to talk to citizens about how any changes to the future of Planned Parenthood, real or threatened, impact patients and their basic right to health care. That's a much, much bigger battle, which we'll keep fighting, no matter what."

Meanwhile, the organization is facing a more immediate battle with tangible consequences: the future of the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare.

"The dots connect between the Affordable Care Act and Planned Parenthood, and the fear among our patients over the fate of the ACA is palpable," said Greer.

Obamacare currently requires insurers to cover the cost of contraception, mammograms and cancer screenings.

"We've seen a 900 percent increase in calls over the past few weeks from women wanting to get into our clinics as soon as possible for an appointment to secure long-term birth control," said Greer. "We're seeing that in other states and we're certainly seeing that in Idaho."

Nationwide, the median cost of a mammogram screening is $267. The median cost of a Mirena IUD, including insertion by a medical practitioner, is $1,111.

"Maybe these women weren't necessarily ready today to get an IUD, but they're sensing their access to birth control is threatened and they want to secure an IUD as soon as possible," said Greer. "Their coverage could disappear."

On his first day in office, Trump signed an executive order instructing federal agencies "to waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation" of any provisions of Obamacare "that pose a financial burden."

"The real burden is on the patient," said Greer.

Another factor in the conversation is a report from the Guttmacher Institute in January that showed the abortion rate in the U.S. has fallen to its lowest level since the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. The report tracked 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women of childbearing age in 2014, significantly lower than a peak of 29 abortions per every 1,000 women in 1981.

"We've seen those numbers drop across the nation, including Idaho," said Tolman. "It's important to keep in mind that one of the major reasons abortion rates have gone down is due to greater access to sex education and good health care. That's what Planned Parenthood is all about."

The most recent data in the Guttmacher Institute report is from 2014.

"That was long before anyone thought a Donald Trump presidency was possible," said Greer. "Things have changed rather quickly."

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