US & Canada

What is Planned Parenthood?

A Planned Parenthood location in New York City Image copyright Getty Images

A fight over federal funding for Planned Parenthood threatens to shut down the US government and has been linked to US House Speaker John Boehner's resignation. What is it?

When news broke that Mr Boehner was quitting Congress, many linked the announcement to an ongoing fight over federal funding for this organisation.

Planned Parenthood is a healthcare non-profit-making group with 59 affiliates and 700 clinics around the US, some of which provide abortion services.

Republicans in Congress have promised to force a federal government shutdown on 30 September if all federal cash to the organisation is not stopped.

Mr Boehner - who is pro-life - has been caught in the middle after pledging to work to prevent a shutdown, and his leadership of the Republican party has been questioned by the rank-and-file.

So what is Planned Parenthood and how could it have cost one of the most powerful Republicans in the US his job?

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Speaker John Boehner announces he will leave office on October 30

The organisation's earliest roots date back to 1916, when social activist and nurse Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control and family planning centre in Brooklyn, New York, at a time when contraception and abortion were illegal.

She was arrested and imprisoned for 30 days after a judge ruled no woman had the "right to copulate" without the expectation it may lead to pregnancy. Nevertheless, Sanger's actions laid the groundwork for the eventual legalisation of birth control.

The organisation officially changed its name to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in 1942. By this time there were 400 birth control clinics in the US, and bans on contraception around the country were largely ignored before being fully repealed in the '60s.

In the 1960s and 1970s, many states in the US began easing their abortion bans, and Planned Parenthood affiliates were at the fore of many court fights to make abortion legal.

In 1970, Planned Parenthood of Syracuse, New York, became the first PP clinic to offer abortion services. After the Supreme Court case Roe v Wade legalised abortion across the country in 1973, many Planned Parenthood clinics became providers.

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In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan ran and won as a pro-life candidate for president, making abortion a solidly political issue. In the mid-1980s, violent attacks on abortion clinics throughout the US began. Four Planned Parenthood clinics around the country were bombed or otherwise attacked in 1986.

Today, Planned Parenthood is the largest single provider of abortion in the US.

The clinics also provide many other healthcare services to women, men and children. In its 2013-2014 report, the organisation said while it provided over 327,000 abortions procedures, that amounted to just 3% of its overall services provided.

It saw 2.7 million patients around the country, and according to its report, 42% of patient visits were for sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, and 34% were for contraceptive services. Clinics also provide cancer screenings like pap smears, breast exams and colonoscopies.

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The most recent firestorm against Planned Parenthood was touched off after an anti-abortion organisation called The Center for Medical Progress secretly recorded a Planned Parenthood official discussing how to obtain aborted foetal tissue for medical research, discussing details like how to "crush" the foetus in certain ways to preserve its organs.

Pro-life advocates say this proves Planned Parenthood is selling foetal parts for profit - which is illegal - although the tape does not show the official explicitly saying as much. This is disputed by the organisation.

"Planned Parenthood affiliates in two states - 1% of Planned Parenthood's health centres - currently offer tissue donation as an option for women who want it," it wrote in a statement in late August.

"Even with the deceptive edits to videos and misinformation campaign over the last six weeks, there is no evidence and no indication that Planned Parenthood has violated any laws or medical standards."

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that Planned Parenthood gets about $450m in federal funding, the majority in the form of Medicaid reimbursements.

Those funds are almost always blocked from paying for abortion services.