What is Planned Parenthood? And how exactly is it funded?

A protester against planned parenthood
A protester against planned parenthood Copyright Reuters
By Farnoush Amiri with NBC News U.S. News
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Only about half of Planned Parenthood affiliates perform abortions, although the organization is the nation's leading abortion provider.


With 57 affiliates nationwide operating more than 600 health centers, Planned Parenthood has become the face of women's reproductive and abortion rights in the U.S.

While only about half of Planned Parenthood affiliates perform abortions, the organization is the nation's leading abortion provider.

Planned Parenthood's history

The organization that became Planned Parenthood began in Brooklyn, New York, in 1916, when Margaret Sanger, founder of the birth control movement and lifelong reproductive rights advocate, opened her first clinic. Police raided and shut down the clinic shortly after it opened, but Sanger went on to open the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau in Manhattan seven years later, according to Planned Parenthood's website. She eventually merged the bureau with the American Birth Control League to create Planned Parenthood.

From there, Planned Parenthood has steadily grown in reach and impact. In its annual report for 2016-17, the organization said it had provided health care services to nearly 2.4 million Americans.

In 2018, Cecile Richards, who had led the organization since 2006, stepped down as president.

Her departure came at a critical time for the abortion and contraception rights movement, amid efforts by some conservatives to cut both Planned Parenthood's federal funding and abortion access in general.

Richards was succeeded by Dr. Leana Wen, a physician who has said supporting abortion rights is the organization's "core mission."

How is Planned Parenthood funded?

The state of Planned Parenthood's funding has remained uncertain for years. Defunding the organization is a top priority for anti-abortion rights groups and was one of Donald Trump's campaign promises during the 2016 presidential election.

Before leaving office, President Barack Obama finalized a regulation meant to protect Planned Parenthood's federal funding.

Since becoming president, Trump has made numerous attempts to defund the organization, including moving forward with a proposal that would require facilities that provide abortions and related services to be physically separate from clinics that are funded with federal family-planning grants.

That prompted an ongoing legal battle between the Trump administration and Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood receives funding from several sources. About 41 percent of its funding comes in the form of federal government reimbursements and grants through programs such as Medicaid and Title X, according the Department of Health and Human Services.

Such federal funding can cover many of the health services Planned Parenthood provides, but it cannot cover abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or when the mother's life is in danger. The restriction is a result of the Hyde Amendment, which Congress passed in 1976 and prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion services in the U.S.

The majority of Planned Parenthood's federal funding comes from Medicaid, which provides health insurance for low-income Americans. Planned Parenthood patients receive services including birth control, cancer screenings and STD testing through Medicaid at low or no cost, depending on the patient's income and the state they live in. Planned Parenthood is then reimbursed by the federal government, according to its website.

Planned Parenthood also receives funding through Title X, the nation's family planning program. It's named for its section in the federal Public Health Service Act and became law in 1970.

Planned Parenthood affiliates serve an estimated 40 percent of Title X patients each year. That comes out to about 1.5 million patients who annually receive services like well-woman exams and HIV testing at Planned Parenthood clinics through the health care plan.

The organization also receives funding through reimbursements from patients' private insurance companies and from patients who pay out-of-pocket for their health care services.

Private donations and grants make up a small share of the nonprofit's funding. These donations help Planned Parenthood maintain its sliding-scale fee system, which allows it to charge for its services based on a patient's income.


Attacks on Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood facilities across the country have faced bomb threats, arson, vandalism and other attacks over the past few years. A 2016 National Clinic Violence Survey published by the Feminist Majority Foundation, a nonprofit organization, found that 34.2 percent of U.S. abortion providers reported "severe violence or threats of violence" in the first half of 2016 — a spike from 19.4 percent reporting violence or threats in 2014.

Undercover videos

In 2015, an anti-abortion group called the Center for Medical Progress caused an uproar when it released a series of videos that it alleged showed that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue.

The director of the group, David Robert Daleiden, along with a fellow center employee, Sandra Susan Merritt, posed as employees of Biomax Procurement Services, a fictitious company they created by registering false documents, including fake driver's licenses. In the clips, they are seen trying to encourage Planned Parenthood representatives to admit to profiting from the sale of fetal tissue.

The two pro-life activists described themselves as "citizen journalists," but federal investigators determined that the videos had been selectively edited. The activists later released a full version and a transcript of one video that showed a Planned Parenthood official denying claims that the organization makes a profit off the tissues.


Richards also denied the allegations, saying that Planned Parenthood's tissue donation program "follows all laws and ethical guidelines."

She added that patients who would like to donate tissue for scientific research may do so, with "no financial benefit" for either the patient or the organization.

In 2016, a Houston grand jury indictedDaleiden and Merritt in the production and release of the videos. But prosecutors said that the grand jury had overstepped its reach, and the charges were later dropped.

In 2017, California authorities charged the pair with 15 felony counts of invasion of privacy in making the secret recordings. Merritt and Daleiden have been arraigned and preliminary hearings in the case are set to begin on Feb. 19, according to a spokesperson for the state attorney general.

Fatal shooting

On Nov. 27, 2015, several months after the release of the Center for Medical Progress videos, a gunman armed with an AK-47-style weapon opened fire in a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, killing three people, including a police officer, and wounding nine.


According to law enforcement officials, the accused shooter, Robert Dear, said "no more baby parts," in reference to Planned Parenthood, after he was taken in for questioning. Police said that Dear told investigators he had attacked the clinic because of his anti-abortion views.

Dear has been deemed not mentally competent to stand trial.

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