With Congress talking about blocking federal funding to Planned Parenthood and Gov. Charlie Baker vowing to use state dollars to plug any holes, anti-abortion activists tried unsuccessfully Wednesday to confront the Republican governor over his support for the women's health organization.
Carrying signs that read "#DEFUNDPP," over 100 anti-abortion activists assembled outside the first-floor press room in the State House while Baker was holding a press conference on water quality legislation he intended to file.
The group - led by Massachusetts Family Institute President Andrew Beckwith and conservative activist and former Republican National Committee member Chanel Prunier - hoped to confront Baker as he left to urge him to divert all public dollars to women's health clinics that do not provide abortions.
Many of the activists were already at the State House for a lobby day with MFI, Catholic Citizenship and the Renew Massachusetts Coalition. When Baker left the press conference from a different exit, avoiding any confrontation, the group delivered letters to his office.
"We're asking him to stop giving what amounts to corporate welfare to the largest abortion provider in the country that's under federal and state investigation. There are over 270 federally qualified health centers in Massachusetts that don't do abortions, that haven't been caught on tape selling baby body parts and taking money to abort minority babies," Beckwith told the News Service. "Women's health doesn't need to suffer, just redirect the funds away from Planned Parenthood and all their problems."
Investigations into Planned Parenthood's practices, including one by Congress, were sparked by largely discredited videos released in 2015 by the Center for Medical Progress that claimed to show officials illegally trying to sell fetal body parts. Attorney General Maura Healey's office reviewed Planned Parenthood clinics in Massachusetts and found no evidence of legal wrongdoing.
The letter, a copy of which was shown to the News Service, urges the governor to talk with Rep. Jim Lyons about the Andover Republican's legislation that would restrict public funding for Planned Parenthood clinics and its affiliates.
It also said Baker - who is pro-choice - should be directing public funds to community health centers that are "focused on medical care, not focused on Planned Parenthood's political activity, which consistently promotes legislation and policies harmful to our families."
Baker last week responded to draft federal health care reform proposals that would defund Planned Parenthood by blocking Medicaid reimbursements for services received by low-income women at clinics by vowing to protect funding in Massachusetts.
"Governor Baker is a strong supporter of women's health and believes the Commonwealth has a responsibility to ensure access to the important health care services offered by Planned Parenthood in all corners of our state, and the administration is prepared to fund these services should the federal government pursue changes that would block care for women and families here in Massachusetts," Baker communications director Lizzy Guyton said in a statement.
Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts operates five health centers that provide sexual and reproductive health services to more than 30,000 men and women in the state, including cancer screenings, pap tests, birth control, and STD testing and treatment, according to the organization.
PPLM President Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak said that without state intervention the federal "defunding" of Planned Parenthood would be "devastating for thousands of Planned Parenthood patients who rely on MassHealth to receive critical preventive services like cancer screenings, pap tests, birth control, and STD testing and treatment."
"Governor Baker's commitment to invest state funds in response to any federal 'defunding' law affirms the important role that Planned Parenthood plays in keeping Massachusetts' communities healthy," Childs-Roshak said.
A PPLM spokeswoman said the five Massachusetts clinics provide about $2 million in services to Medicaid patients that would be in jeopardy should Congress block Medicaid reimbursements for Planned Parenthood through the GOP health reform bill currently being debated.
About 30 percent of the group's Massachusetts patients rely on MassHealth or Medicaid managed care plans to access health care.
Planned Parenthood clinics also received state dollars as part of a network of providers that receive financial support through the Department of Public Health's family planning program.
Funded with about $5.5 million a year, Baker cut almost $182,000 from family planning services in December as part of his $98 million in midyear budget cuts made to keep the state's budget in balance.