Planned Parenthood is vital in Alaska

My lifelong commitment to comprehensive reproductive health care first began when I heard stories from my mother. She was a young nurse in the 1950s, and she never forgot the women her own age who came in with, and often died from, complications from illegal and unsafe abortion.

I understood then that women will risk their lives if safe abortion care is unavailable, but from a career caring for women, I also understand access to a full range of high-quality reproductive health care is about more than just safe, legal abortions.

Comprehensive reproductive health care looks like family planning, birth control, sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, and abortion services, so women can plan if and when they get pregnant.

The introduction of the most reliable contraception ever invented: long-acting reversible contraception, including intrauterine devices and implants is critical.

When such contraception is made readily available and affordable, women will use it. I have seen this firsthand. However, its not cheap or free, and larger clinics can negotiate for bulk purchases, which benefits clients and whichever plan is covering the cost.

[At Anchorage rally, hundreds ask Alaska senators to support Planned Parenthood]

Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program cover 1 in 5 people in this country. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 17 percent of women in Alaska of reproductive age are covered by Medicaid.


These women are often less likely to have a steady provider, many live in  rural areas, and rely on services from Planned Parenthood. Experts predict in communities that already have a shortage of providers, other existing clinics and doctors would not be able to absorb Planned Parenthood patients.

Ultimately, defunding Planned Parenthood really means erecting barriers between Alaskans and health care.

In Alaska, Medicaid and Title X funds cover a large portion of family planning services. In 2014, these funds made it possible for 26,070 Alaskan women to receive contraception, including care received at Planned Parenthood health centers.

Seventy-five percent of Planned Parenthood's health centers are located in communities with formally recognized provider shortages, and patients have nowhere else to turn. The majority of services we provide in these areas are preventive, including contraception, STI testing, cancer screenings and smoking cessation counseling — all part of the valuable health services also provided.

[Anchorage protesters rally against Planned Parenthood]

Alaskans already face too many barriers when it comes to accessing affordable, high-quality health care. We have devastatingly high rates of STIs, child sexual assault and teen pregnancy, and the highest rate of reported rape cases in the country.

Until these problems are eliminated, thousands of Alaskans will continue to urgently seek care, and Planned Parenthood is a recognizable and reliable high-quality provider for these needed services.

As a health care provider in Alaska for more than three decades, I know many of my colleagues agree uninhibited access to the full range of reproductive health services is what is best for Alaskans, and Planned Parenthood is a valued member of our health care safety net.

Defunding Planned Parenthood is dangerous. The elected officials who are hellbent on defunding Planned Parenthood must prepare for the consequences created in their own backyards.

I hope my fellow Alaskans will join me in fighting back and standing with Planned Parenthood.

We have come too far since the days my mother endured in the 1950s. We can't go back.

Dr. Tina Tomsen is a obstetrician and gynecologist in Alaska and friend of Physicians for Reproductive Health.

The views expressed here are the writer's and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary@alaskadispatch.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@alaskadispatch.com.