Credit: Edmund D. Fountain for The New York Times
NEW ORLEANS — Dr. Stephanie Taylor recently showed off the private community health center here, newly built on the site of a women’s clinic wrecked by Hurricane Katrina a decade ago, pointing out the colorful furnishings, germ-resistant flooring and, in the sunny lobby, a welcoming Tree of Life mural. So it was a tad incongruous when she added, “We’re at ground zero for sexually transmitted infections.”
Dr. Taylor’s point was twofold: Demand for tests and treatment is great, not just in this neighborhood beyond the French Quarter, but all over Louisiana. And clinics like this CrescentCare Health and Wellness Center need all the allies they can get — including the state’s two Planned Parenthood clinics, one here and one in Baton Rouge, whose public funds are now threatened by Republicans in the state capital and in Congress.
“We have a syphilis epidemic right now in New Orleans,” said Dr. Taylor, the medical director overseeing programs to combat sexually transmitted infections for the State Office of Public Health. She is also the director of Louisiana State University’s sexually transmitted infections program, which operates in the wellness center here. Louisiana ranks first among the states in cases of gonorrhea, second in chlamydia, and third in syphilis and H.I.V., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The political dispute embroiling Planned Parenthood here and nationwide is over abortion, though public funds are not permitted by federal law to be used for abortion, except in cases involving rape, incest or a pregnancy that threatens the mother’s life. Neither clinic in this state — like nearly half of all Planned Parenthood centers — performs abortions. What the Louisiana Planned Parenthood clinics did do last year was administer nearly 20,000 tests for sexually transmitted infections, as well as provide gynecological exams, contraceptive care, cancer screenings and other wellness services for nearly 10,000 mostly low-income patients.