In the midst of recent troubles for Planned Parenthood nationally, southern New Jersey’s branch is facing its own struggles.
Earlier this year, the women’s health organization came under fire after a series of videos were released by anti-abortion advocates that appeared to show Planned Parenthood executives selling parts of aborted fetuses.
More recently, the U.S. Senate approved a bill that would prevent any federal funding from going to Planned Parenthood.
The issue locally, according to the region’s CEO, Lynn Brown, is not protests or hostilities but actions by state political leaders, particularly the governor.
In 2010, Gov. Chris Christie put an end to all state funding to family planning facilities, a $7.4 million cut, which over the years has accumulated to about a $30 million loss in funds statewide, Brown said.
Five years later, Atlantic City’s site is still experiencing the ramifications. Still, it remains committed to its mission — keeping women healthy, Brown said.
“We have a saying here,” said Aurora Connor, community advocate for Planned Parenthood of Southern New Jersey. “Our doors will remain open.”
At the time, Christie attributed the cuts to the state’s financial difficulties. The family-planning cut was recommended amid a series of others, during a period when the state was experiencing a $10 billion shortfall. All subsequent bills to reinstate the funds have been vetoed.
Jodie Morro, 46, who was once a patient in a Philadelphia-based Planned Parenthood clinic, said these facilities are vital, particularly in areas such as Atlantic City.
“I used to go there for birth control, and they were supportive” she said. “In this area, with not everyone, but some, having economic struggles, a place like this is needed.”
Six of the 58 family planning health centers in the state have closed as a result of the loss in funding. Those that remain have seen increased wait times and a drop in patient volume.
Planned Parenthood is no exception.
“Say you are a teenager, and you want to get your contraception now. Waiting a week is not going to work,” said Brown, explaining that such a wait, if not longer, has become commonplace in some facilities.
In the year following the cut, Planned Parenthood of Southern New Jersey saw 500 fewer patients, according to data provided on its website.
Atlantic County freeholders voted to eliminate funding for a family planning clinic the county once operated in Hammonton. The clinic closed in 2014.
Brown said New Jersey’s family planning providers saw at least 37,000 fewer patients in 2013 compared with 2009, the year before the cuts.
“Some of the women are slipping through the cracks,” Connor added. “It’s not like all of them are going somewhere else.”
The branch that Brown oversees, which includes sites in Burlington, Camden and Atlantic counties, outspent its revenue by $15,208 in 2014, according to its operating report. Brown said that since the loss of state funding, operating under a deficit like this isn’t a new experience.
“There is data that says for every dollar invested in family planning there is a $7 return,” Brown said. “I can’t imagine a better investment.”
On the 2000 block of Atlantic Avenue, Atlantic City’s Planned Parenthood facilities are wedged inconspicuously between an H&R Block and a 7-Eleven. Passersby pay the building no mind, with no visual indicators apart from a blue sticker nameplate pressed to the glass.
“You would never know it was here,” Alisha Aviles said. Aviles used to go to the facility for her birth-control pills, but on the recent Wednesday afternoon, she was just passing by.
“They were so welcoming,” she added with a smile.