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REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH SERVICES | PPFA Clinics 'Rebranding' To Appeal to Higher-Income Clients, Wall Street Journal Reports

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH SERVICES | PPFA Clinics 'Rebranding' To Appeal to Higher-Income Clients, Wall Street Journal Reports
[June 23, 2008]

Some Planned Parenthood Federation of America affiliates nationwide are "rebranding" their clinics to expand their appeal beyond the teens and low-income women who have traditionally constituted the majority of patients to more "affluent" clients in an effort to increase both revenue and "political clout," the Wall Street Journal reports. Planned Parenthood officials noted that health insurance does not always cover contraception and even women with access to private doctors might prefer the confidentiality of buying birth control or getting a herpes test at a Planned Parenthood clinic.

PPFA affiliates have built two new "elegant" health centers in Aurora, Ill., and Denver that feature muted lighting, hardwood floors, spacious waiting rooms and "fortresslike security" to attract higher-income clientele, according to the Journal. Five new centers also are planned, and Planned Parenthood has opened more than 24 "express centers" nationwide, many in suburban shopping malls. The express centers offer birth control counseling, as well as tests for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Some express centers also sell jewelry, candles, books and T-shirts, according to the Journal. Officials from a Massachusetts affiliate said they will use profits from an express center in a "trendy retail plaza catering to college students" to help to open a similar clinic in a low-income, largely Latino community, the Journal reports.

PPFA last spring rewrote its mission statement to say that the group aims to "leverage strength through our affiliated structure to be the nation's most trusted provider of sexual and reproductive health care." Previously, the mission statement said that the group aimed to provide all individuals, regardless of income, the right to "reproductive self-determination." According to the Journal, the strategy is increasing revenue for some clinics, which make a profit of about $22 on each pack of birth control pills sold to clients who can afford to pay the full price. The profit is used to subsidize other activities, such as providing health care for low-income people or sex education for teenagers, in addition to political activities.

The approach is designed to protect the organization from potential government cuts in funding, while allowing it to increase political advocacy, according to the Journal. Dianne Luby, president of Planned Parenthood's Massachusetts affiliate, said that because many people only associate the organization with abortion, it is "trying to reposition ourselves as caring about their health, about prevention, about a sustainable planet."

Although officials at PPFA have said efforts to appeal to wealthier clients are an extension of the group's mission to provide reproductive health care, the "tactics" have been criticized by both abortion-rights supporters and opponents, the Journal reports. PPFA President Cecile Richards said the revised mission statement implies expanded services for all clients, including men. However, some critics have questioned why the mission statement no longer mentions affordability or access to reproductive care.

Amy Hagstrom Miller, who runs abortion clinics in Maryland and Texas and competes with Planned Parenthood clinics for clients, said Planned Parenthood has "more of a business approach" now than in previous years. The group "put[s] local independent businesses in a tough situation," she added. Claire Keyes, an independent abortion provider in Pittsburgh, said that PPFA has "made a decision to go after the young and the hip and the affluent" and is "leaving poor women behind." Richards argued that the group can appeal to both lower-income and wealthier women and that low-income women "remain [PPFA's] top priority."

Antiabortion groups have noted that the group reported $1 billion in revenue in its most recent financial report, about one-third of which came from federal and state grants to provide care for low-income women, and had a surplus of $115 million at the end of the year. Jim Sedlak, vice president of the antiabortion group American Life League, said that as PPFA "reach[es] out to more and more affluent customers," it "will bolster" abortion opponents' "argument that we shouldn't be giving them any government funds." However, experts in not-for-profit management have said that it is fiscally responsible to end the year with a surplus and that PPFA's surplus was reasonable. Richards said, "There is no excess. Any money we have, we put back into services" (Simon, Wall Street Journal, 6/23).