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Thursday June 4th, 2020 4:23AM

Indiana, Kentucky join Planned Parenthood's western alliance

By The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Planned Parenthood's affiliate overseeing Hawaii and three western states announced Friday that it was adding Indiana and Kentucky, a first-of-its-kind consolidation based not on geography but on reallocating resources to fight new abortion restrictions in the Midwest and South.

The arrangement by the women's health nonprofit places Indiana and Kentucky under a Seattle-based affiliate that currently oversees clinics in Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho and western Washington.

Chris Charbonneau, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands, said her group has an annual budget of about $70 million. She said its donors wanted to help Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky.

In recent years, that Indianapolis-based group has faced the legal costs of challenging far-reaching limits on abortion rights sought by Republican lawmakers in both states — including a proposed bill before Kentucky's Legislature that would ban abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

"They feel like other parts of the country have a tougher row to hoe and they're looking forward to supporting this effect," Charbonneau said of the donors. "... The political environments in Indiana and Kentucky have been particularly oppressive and they've made getting health care to low-income people in the states difficult."

Planned Parenthood said the arrangement is the first such alliance for the health care organization. The boards of the two groups this week unanimously approved a "strategic alliance" that takes effect Saturday. Charbonneau will be the CEO of both groups.

She said the alliance will also help provide reproductive health care and other services in Indiana and Kentucky, with an expansion of services being eyed in both states.

Charbonneau said the new entity will have a combined annual budget of between $80 million and $90 million and serve more 164,000 patients annually at 45 health centers across six states. Sixteen of those health centers are in Indiana and two are in Kentucky.

Planned Parenthood provides an array of health services, including Pap tests, breast and testicular exams, STD testing and treatment, birth control and pregnancy tests. It also provides abortion services, which has made it a target for anti-abortion and conservative groups.

Mike Fichter, the president and CEO of Indiana Right to Life, said in a statement that the alliance between the two Planned Parenthood groups "places a target on unborn children in Indiana and Kentucky by bringing in millions of dollars from far away states to influence policy and expand abortions."

"... We believe this merger underscores Planned Parenthood's intent to expand abortions which are central to its revenue stream," he said.

Kentucky is embroiled in three abortion-related lawsuits. Two other abortion-related laws in the state have been struck down by the courts, including one that had required doctors to perform ultrasounds and show and describe the ultrasound images to pregnant women, who could avert their eyes. GOP Gov. Matt Bevin has appealed in both cases.

Legislation passed by Indiana lawmakers has also led to a series of court fights, including a law Vice President Mike Pence signed when he was governor that would ban abortions for fetal genetic abnormalities, such as Down syndrome. Another provision of that 2016 law would have required burial or cremation of aborted fetuses, but federal courts have blocked those provisions as unconstitutional.

In Indiana, Planned Parenthood offers abortion services at clinics in Indianapolis, Merrillville, Bloomington and Lafayette; it operates no abortion clinics in Kentucky — which has only one abortion clinic — but is seeking license to perform abortions at its Louisville and Lexington clinics, said Judi Morrison, the Indiana-Kentucky group's vice president of education, human resources and training.

The Indiana and Kentucky affiliates merged nearly six years ago, part of an ongoing trend for Planned Parenthood. The national organization once had more than 200 affiliates. Andrew Everett, a spokesman for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands, said there are now 53 nationwide due to consolidations.

Charbonneau said the growing costs of providing health care have driven the consolidations. She said the alliance will reduce the cost of electronic medical records, laboratory testing and other overhead costs for the two groups.

"It is radically expensive to provide health care in America today and everyone looks for every opportunity to shave costs out of their system in order to be able to continue to do their work," she said.

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