Women living in rural areas like the Walla Walla Valley face significantly more barriers — longer travel times and fewer care options — to accessing reproductive health care, Planned Parenthood officials say.
The organization’s Walla Walla Family Planning Clinic offers pregnancy testing, emergency contraception, testing and treatment for sexually-transmitted disease, birth control — including condoms — and medication-induced abortions. A nurse practitioner provides the care.
Many Planned Parenthood health clinics are located in medically-underserved and poorer rural areas, including Central and Eastern Washington, noted Tiffany Harms, spokeswoman for Greater Washington and North Idaho Planned Parenthood.
The organization accepts Medicaid and other government health insurance plans, along with private insurance. As well, the nonprofit offers a sliding fee scale for those with no insurance.
According to 2014 data from the state Department of Health, an estimated 430,000 women in Washington are in need of publicly-funded contraceptive supplies and services. Planned Parenthood gave 24,500 of those women family planning help, translating to about 2,800 fewer births from unintended pregnancies, 1,900 fewer abortions and 900 fewer miscarriages.
In the same fiscal year, Washington’s Medicaid program paid for 41,456 births at an average cost of $9,253 each. About half of those births were the result of unintended pregnancies.
Meanwhile, the average annual cost for publicly-funded contraceptive care in Washington is $335 per person.
In Walla Walla in 999 people received family planning at the local Planned Parenthood clinic in 2014. Within that group, 62 percent used a federal program was designed to ensure low-income or uninsured people can access family planning services at reduced or no cost. One in five local patients was eligible for free or reduced-cost care, and nearly half were between ages 18-25, Harms said.
Taylor Wolfe, a Planned Parenthood outreach worker in Walla Walla, spends a lot of time talking with youths at the county’s Juvenile Justice Center. They are “really interested” in avoiding pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease and “they have a lot of questions,” she said.
Many of the youths, regardless of the kind of home they come from or school they attend, carry with them myths and old wives’ tales about avoiding pregnancy.
In some cases, they have not been given accurate information at home or have been in school to take advantage of sexual education, she said.
Like elsewhere, Eastern Washington patients are nervous about what changes may come next year in a Republican-led White House and Congress which has declared its intention to repeal President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and cut federal funding for reproductive health.
“It’s jarring for women to hear about issues we thought we’d put behind us,” Harms said.
“I’m typing sentences about women’s rights my grandmother would have typed,” she added. “To have the value of women’s health care questioned is strange. This shouldn’t even be on the table.”