The Associated Press
LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The statewide Planned Parenthood affiliates in Kentucky and Indiana will merge next month in a move aimed at expanding reproductive health care services offered by the nonprofit organization in both states.
One goal following the July 1 merger will be to open more clinics in the Bluegrass state, Planned Parenthood executives said Monday.
“Our combined strength and depth is going to make us much better able to serve the needs of current clients in both Kentucky and Indiana, and to participate in meeting much of the unmet need that still exists,” said Kim Greene, who heads the Planned Parenthood of Kentucky board.
Greene said the needs for preventive care and early health screenings are acute in Kentucky, which has the nation’s second-highest cervical cancer death rate and the seventh-highest teen birth rate.
Planned Parenthood now has one clinic in Louisville and another in Lexington — the state’s two largest cities.
“Kentucky’s a big state and there are only two Planned Parenthood locations here at this point, and we’d sure like to change that,” said Betty Cockrum, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana.
Cockrum, who will assume the same titles with the bi-state organization, said any additional clinics would likely be opened elsewhere in Kentucky.
Planned Parenthood has 26 health centers in Indiana but there are still unmet needs — especially in rural areas, she said.
“We absolutely have a focus on expansion in Indiana as well,” Cockrum said.
The merged group will look at offering a wider array of health services to care for more patients at its health centers in both states, the executives said. A majority of Planned Parenthood patients in both states have incomes below the poverty line.
The boards of both state Planned Parenthood affiliates have approved the merger.
The two statewide affiliates, which trace their roots to the 1930s, have a combined budget of $15.5 million and a workforce of 190 in their 28 health centers and administrative office. A handful of staff positions were consolidated as part of the pending merger.
The administrative office will be in Indianapolis. Kentucky will have 14 seats on the new 35-member board.
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.
Indiana Right to Life President and CEO Mike Fichter predicted the merger would influence the number of abortions. Fichter judged Kentucky’s abortion laws as weaker than those in the Hoosier state.
“This merger will likely result in Planned Parenthood expanding its abortion business south of the Ohio River and driving the abortion rate higher in Kentucky while avoiding Indiana’s abortion laws,” he said.
He said his group will continue to work with others to offer “positive alternatives” to abortion.
Meanwhile, Planned Parenthood is waging a legal fight with Indiana over a 2011 state law stripping Medicaid funds from the organization.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to hear an appeal of a ruling that threw out the state law. Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, a fierce opponent of Planned Parenthood during his time in Congress, has said his staff is reviewing the case and he’ll decide what to do after weighing his legal options.
Cockrum said Monday that the legal fight didn’t factor into the Planned Parenthood merger between states separated by the Ohio River.
Mergers have been common within Planned Parenthood. At one time the national organization had more than 200 affiliates; now there are 73 nationwide.
The latest round of mergers has stemmed largely from aftereffects of the federal Affordable Care Act, Greene said. The law’s structure favors larger health organizations “that can take advantage of economies of scale,” Greene said.
In the next few months, the merged organization will spend much of its time assessing health needs in Kentucky, Cockrum said.
“It’s important for us to understand what it looks like and where the needs are greatest ... so we can best meet them,” she said.