Last week, Governor Mike Pence of Indiana “declared a public health emergency in Scott County, Indiana…after 79 people tested positive for HIV linked to intravenous drug use.” Today, Laura Bassett (Huffington Post) said that Scott County has become “the center of an exploding HIV outbreak.” Unfortunately, the county has “been without an HIV testing center since early 2013, when the sole provider — a Planned Parenthood clinic — was forced to close its doors.” Bassett noted that the clinic did not offer abortion services.
The Scott County clinic and four other Planned Parenthood facilities in the state, all of which provided HIV testing and information, have shuttered since 2011, in large part due to funding cuts to the state’s public health infrastructure. Those cuts came amid a national and local political campaign to demonize the health care provider. Now, the state is scrambling to erect pop-up clinics to combat an unprecedented HIV epidemic caused by intravenous drug use.
The fact that Scott County was “without a testing facility until a few weeks ago is a glaring example of the kind of public health crisis that results when prevention and testing are left unfunded,” said Patti Stauffer, Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky’s vice president for public policy.
Bassett said that the GOP-led state legislature in Indiana “was one of the first to declare war against Planned Parenthood in 2011, when it passed a bill that defunded the family planning provider because some of its clinics offer abortion services.” She added that a “federal judge later blocked that law from going into effect.” The state, nonetheless, “continued to slash various sources of funding to Planned Parenthood at a time when the cost of operating a medical facility continues to rise.”
Laura Clawson (Daily Kos) noted that Pence was serving in the House of Representatives in 2011, “so he wasn’t directly responsible for Planned Parenthood cuts made at the state level.” She said, however, that Pence pushed an amendment to defund Planned Parenthood through the House in 2011, “as part of the wave of Republican attacks on Planned Parenthood that also closed that Scott County clinic, leaving the area without an HIV testing center.”
Amendments to defund Planned Parenthood are exactly the sort of thing that made Pence a darling of the far right, a governor, and, to hear some people talk, a plausible presidential candidate. So while he’s now taking action to set up a needle exchange to stem the HIV outbreak—despite his general opposition to needle exchanges—the fact is that this outbreak is a direct result of the kind of policies that Mike Pence embraces.
Bassett said that Planned Parenthood received a total of $3.3 million in funding from government contracts and grants in 2005. She added, “By 2014, that funding had dropped to $1.9 million. Five of Planned Parenthood’s smaller clinics in the state — the health centers in Scottsburg, Madison, Richmond, Bedford and Warsaw — were unable to keep up with the growing technology costs that were necessary to remain competitive as a medical provider.” Barrett said that all five of “the clinics that were forced to close had offered HIV testing”–and not one of the clinics “offered abortions.”
Bassett reported that Planned Parenthood’s HIV testing in Indiana has been increasing each year even without the five closed clinics.
Overall, the provider’s 25 remaining clinics in Kentucky and Indiana gave more than 8,000 HIV tests in 2014, about 1,000 more than the previous year. And the numbers would certainly be higher if the five shuttered clinics in Indiana had been able to continue to operate.
Stauffer said if the Planned Parenthood facilities in Scottsburg and Madison, both in southwest rural Indiana, had received the funding they needed to stay open, they could have been a vital resource in preventing the current HIV outbreak.