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April 2, 2013

Planned Parenthood, ex-affiliate squabble over local funds

By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star

---- — The national Planned Parenthood organization has approved expansion of its Southern Finger Lakes affiliate into Otsego, Delaware, Chenango and Broome counties, where it will compete for funding with Family Planning of South Central New York.

The latter group was affiliated with Planned Parenthood Federation of America until March 1, when it cut ties with the national group rather than comply with a mandate to perform some abortions in at least one of its clinics instead of making referrals to abortion providers.

The application by Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes, which is based in Ithaca, was approved Wednesday by the national group’s Affiliate Development and Accreditation Committee, according to a letter obtained by The Daily Star.

The South Central group announced its plan to disaffiliate in late November, saying that it did not want to compete with the private clinic that provides most of the abortions in the region and possibly force it to close.

“Dr. Amy Cousins at Southern Tier Women’s Services has been in the Binghamton area for many years and provides 2,000 abortion procedures annually,” Debra Marcus, the chief executive of the Family Planning of South Central New York, said Monday. “If our agency were to provide a few hundred abortions and effectively drive her away, abortion access in our area would substantially decrease, contrary to our mission of aiming to maintain and increase reproductive access.”

Peg Johnston, director of Southern Tier Women’s Services, issued a statement Monday, supporting Family Planning of South Central New York.

“The recent proposal by Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes to try to provide services already being offered by Family Planning of South Central N.Y. and Dr. Cousins, is unnecessary and will actually jeopardize access rather than ensure it,” the statement said.

It was unclear Monday how many abortions the Southern Finger Lakes group was planning to perform in the four-county area, but “five a week would jeopardize our practice,” Johnston said.

“We’re basically pretty break-even,” she said.

Johnston said that the South Central group spent about two years studying whether to offer its own abortions — including discussions with Southern Tier Women’s Services — after the national Planned Parenthood Federation decided in 2010 to require affiliate abortions by this year.

“I think they studied it very thoughtfully and basically decided that if they were to compete with us, they would actually decrease access by basically making it financially impossible for us to continue,” she said. “That’s why they decided to disaffiliate.”

Johnston said that the Southern Finger Lakes group “would do exactly what our local group was trying to avoid.”

She also said Southern Tier Women’s Services had no discussions with the Finger Lakes group, “because we just received notice of this over the weekend.”

Marcus said Family Planning of South Central New York receives about $1.5 million in annual funding from Title X, a federal program that provides family planning support to states but does not pay for abortions. New York state distributes the federal money to providers under multi-year contracts. Marcus said her group is about halfway through its current five-year contract.

With at least two years left on Family Planning of South Central New York’s contract, Southern Finger Lakes probably could only offer family planning services during that time in Otsego, Delaware, Chenango and Broome counties with money designated for its current area or with donations from private parties.

Marcus said her organization sent a letter to its donors in mid-February in which it attempted to head off confusion about who was providing family planning services.

“People think, ‘Oh, I always gave to Planned Parenthood, I guess this must be Planned Parenthood. I’ll give them the money,’” Marcus said of potential fund-raising appeals by Southern Finger Lakes.

Asked if the loss of Title X money the next time contracts are awarded would force her group to close, Marcus said: “Probably.”

Calls to Planned Parenthood of Southern Finger Lakes were not returned Monday, but its chief executive, Joe Sammons, issued an email statement late in the day through the press office of the national Planned Parenthood organization.

“Planned Parenthood of Southern Finger Lakes has a long history of working collaboratively with existing private and public family planning providers, including Planned Parenthood health centers across New York State,” the statement read. “Our top priory to make sure that women, men, and young people get high quality preventive health care like birth control and cancer screenings.”