Supporters of Planned Parenthood vowed Saturday to fight to keep federal funding for the group’s health centers during a rally that drew hundreds of people to Boston Common.
Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh said funding cuts to Planned Parenthood clinics would deprive more than 30,000 women and men statewide of health care services like cancer screenings, birth control, and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.
The organization said it staged the demonstration after a draft Republican proposal to repeal the Affordable Care Act was leaked, revealing plans to take away funding for Planned Parenthood.
“Defunding Planned Parenthood is just simply reckless,” Walsh told the crowd to loud cheers. “We can’t let this happen. America is better than that.”
The group’s five clinics in Massachusetts stand to lose about $2 million annually, from a budget of $21.5 million, if the plan is enacted.
That money does not go directly from the government to Planned Parenthood; it is paid through Medicaid, the joint federal-state program that provides health coverage for low-income Americans.
The Republican proposal would effectively block Medicaid patients from receiving health services through the organization.
Federal dollars are already restricted from being used to pay for abortions. MassHealth, the health insurance program for the state’s poorest residents, pays for abortions, Planned Parenthood said.
Dr. Jennifer Childs-Roshak, who leads the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts and the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, praised Baker’s promise and called on other Republicans to follow suit.
“There are millions of people around the country who will be blocked from accessing life-saving preventive care at Planned Parenthood under this defunding scheme,” she said. “Supporting Planned Parenthood and women’s access to health care can and should be a nonpartisan issue.”
Anne Fox, president of the antiabortion group Massachusetts Citizens for Life, said she supports plans to strip funding from Planned Parenthood. Community health centers that provide medical care to low-income people are a better use of taxpayer dollars, she said.
“There are other places where people who can’t afford this care can get it for free,” Fox said in a telephone interview. “When [Planned Parenthood] talk[s] about public service to the community, they are not providing anything for free.”
At the rally, some Planned Parenthood supporters held signs with messages like, “Hands off my human rights” and “Standing with my sisters.”
US Representative Joseph Kennedy III told demonstrators he went door-to-door at the Capitol looking for a copy of the bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act, but to no avail.
“We’re supposed to start working on that bill, marking it up on Wednesday. We have not seen it,” said Kennedy, as some in the crowd booed. “We are here today to say, ‘Not on our watch!’ ”
US Representatives Katherine Clark, Seth Moulton, and Michael Capuano and Boston City Councilor at Large Ayanna Pressley also addressed the gathering.
Sam Friedwald, who has long struggled with uterine fibroids and ovarian cysts, said she turned to Planned Parenthood when she lost her health insurance in 2015.
“I waited until I no longer could function physically and mentally from the anxiety of worrying about how I would get care, and also how I would afford it,” she said from the podium. “My visit to Planned Parenthood marked one of the first times I took control of my health, and it restored within me a sense of safety and dignity.”
Christian Kaufman, a health care assistant at Planned Parenthood in Boston, said she turned to the organization after she lost health insurance and needed treatment for a urinary tract infection.
The clinic she visited in Bryan, Texas, provided her with a prescription for antibiotics, Kaufman said.
“I remember a protester yelling through a fence at me: ‘You don’t have to do this! We can take you somewhere better,’ ” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘First of all, yes, I do have to do this. And secondly, you could never convince me I could get better care someplace else.’ ”
The health center has since closed and now houses a pregnancy crisis center because of tightened regulations in Texas for abortion providers, Kaufman said.
Serena Eastman, 26, of Boston, came to the rally with her 65-year-old mother, and said she’s angry and fearful that Republicans are moving to defund Planned Parenthood.
“I’ve gone [to Planned Parenthood] uninsured and unemployed and I’ve never been turned away,” Eastman said.
Wearing a pink “pussy hat” she got for the Women’s March in Boston in January, Eastman said she was fitted for an intrauterine device at Planned Parenthood last September after a private-practice gynecologist refused to give her one.
“I walked into Planned Parenthood and two hours later I had an IUD,” she said.
Eastman said the legislative effort to defund Planned Parenthood is an assault on women’s health.
“I see it as an attack on women’s autonomy and women’s rights, and an attempt to control women,” she said.
Tim Shulga-Morskoy, a 19-year-old student at Suffolk University and member of the newly formed Coalition to Organize and Mobilize Boston Against Trump, or COMBAT, said he attended the rally to support legal abortions.
Shulga-Morskoy said he opposes Republican rhetoric on abortion because of the party’s opposition to services such as universal health care and its support of the death penalty.
“They’re only pro-life until the child comes out of the womb,” he said. “We should be supporting a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body before, after, and during her pregnancy.”