A study co-authored by a University professor shows that cuts in funding directed at health clinics that provide abortion services and preventative care leads to fewer women seeking preventative care.

The research by David Slusky, assistant professor of economics at the University, and Yao Lu of the Analysis Group in Boston, was released on Oct. 6. Slusky and Lu localized their research to Texas and Wisconsin, two states that enacted early legislation cutting funding to women’s health clinics that provided abortion services.

Slusky said the research was conducted by a national network, which reported quarterly what clinics closed in Texas and Wisconsin. He said those states were picked because they were two of the first to eliminate funding for the clinics that provide abortion services. The driving distance to the nearest facility from each ZIP code in the state was then calculated to compare with independent survey data from women about the relative changes in driving distance and the relative changes in preventative care.

The research, which was partially funded through fellowships with the National Science Foundation and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, found when a facility closed and women's drives increased by 100 miles or more, the rate at which women sought preventative screenings such as breast exams, mammograms and Pap smears decreased by 11 percent, 18 percent and 14 percent, respectively.  

“This result is not unique to [Texas and Wisconsin]. If access to care is reduced, emphasis of care goes down,” Slusky said. “If preventive care doesn’t have an immediate benefit, then it also has opportunity costs such as taking off work, driving a whole day one way of the other to get such care, and people are going to get less of it if we close these women and health and family planning clinics.”

Slusky said while there is not an explicit push from state and federal governments to cut funding for preventive care services, there is a push to cut funding for abortion services. However, he said separating the two issues is not as simple as politicians would like it to be.

“Organizations have fixed costs,” he said. “They offer a wide variety of services to cover their fixed costs, and if you limit them to individual services, they may not be able to cover their fixed costs and it might not make sense for them financially to stay in operation.”

Planned Parenthood is a women’s health care organization which provides preventive services including Pap smear, breast exams and screenings for cervical cancer, according to its website. The organization has been the target of much of the government reduction in funding for its offering of abortion services.

Kansas won a federal court case in 2014 which allowed the state to entirely defund the organization. Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri filed the lawsuit in 2011 after Governor Sam Brownback announced that funding for organizations that provide abortion services would be revoked in the 2012 budget. Slusky said under federal law, the Hyde Amendment stipulates government funding can not go towards abortion services. 

Therefore, the calls to eliminate funding to health care clinics who provide abortion services would eliminate funding needed to provide other necessary services.

“If zero percent of the federal funding is going towards abortion services, and politicians are still calling for that money to be cut, then they seem to be willing to call for it to be cut from reimbursements to Planned Parenthood and alike for other services,” Slusky said.

Rachel Whitten, communications director for the Kansas House of Representatives, disagreed with Slusky’s research, saying Planned Parenthood was entirely separate from women’s health care centers.

“Planned Parenthood is not women’s health,” Whitten said. “We can’t interchange those two. Planned Parenthood runs an abortion facility. Women’s health is gynecologists, etc. They are separate, and you cannot interchange those.”

Elise Higgins, a spokesperson with Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said Slusky’s research goes along with what the organization has said: Defunding clinics that provide preventive services has a direct negative effect on women.

Higgins also agreed with Slusky’s finding that women who have less than a high school diploma for an education are less likely to seek preventive care than women with a higher level of education.

“Because education can be linked to income, that is absolutely true. Having a lower income makes it much harder to travel over an hour to get the health care you need, especially if you work at a job without flexible times or if you need child care,” she said. “Politicians dislike Planned Parenthood because of abortion, but abortion has nothing to do with the funding that is cut off for family planning services. These policies always end up hurting the most vulnerable women in our community."

Slusky said the findings directly impact University and other college students as they begin voting in elections and determining how they evaluate the statements politicians make about women’s health issues. He added that college students are in a key age group when it comes to receiving preventive care.

“KU students are of the prime age that are served by these types of clinics. For many women, the only doctor they see in a year is a doctor at Planned Parenthood and the other organizations. If those organizations don’t exist, it is possible that KU students are not going to be getting preventive care as well,” he said.

Slusky said the goal of the research was not to sway a political argument one way or another. He said the argument was determining whether a decrease in preventive care was justifiable, or if there needs to be more emphasis on funding preventative care and making it more accessible.

“With this particular research, what I am hoping to do is add a piece of nonpartisan analysis to this conversation about how much public funding should be going to these organizations,” he said.

— Edited by Amber Vandegrift