The near century old organization has been incredibly important for women's health throughout the decades
When I was 16, I decided I needed to be on birth control pills. However, my mother, two sisters and I all went to the same gynecologist. I was too shy and ashamed to ask him for a prescription, let alone take it to a pharmacy. I had no regular source of income to pay for a prescription anyway so I decided to go to Planned Parenthood.
Being one of those people who can’t get away with anything, I hopped on a bus and went to a very nice, clean medical office. I filled out some forms thinking that nobody would ever know about my dirty secret. To my surprise my sister’s classmate opened the office door and said, “Michelle, you can come with me.” I almost died.
I went to her office and sat down. Her name was Robin and she asked me how my older sister was doing (that felt so odd) but she did her job well as a counselor, and set me at ease. I walked out with a three month supply of birth control pills. Mission accomplished! After that first experience, I just asked my doctor for a prescription and paid the $30 a month for my packet of pills.
Since I’ve only been to Planned Parenthood once, I didn’t appreciate how important the worldwide organization is. Yet it’s so controversial to some people. When I hear the name I just shudder thinking of the abortion debate. I don’t debate life and death issues, but for the record, I am pro-choice and proud of it.
A couple years ago, there was a scandal with the Susan B. Komen Foundation eliminating grants to Planned Parenthood that piqued my interest. Articles crossed my feed and I learned all about the other female health issues they diagnose and treat. It was truly an education in how difficult it is for some Americans to access the care they need, especially for lower income women. Which, after all, is why I went there in the first place.
I was fortunate to have health insurance, but that didn’t cover the cost of the birth control pills at the pharmacy. That’s now a huge political issue with the Affordable Care Act thanks to the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court ruling.
A few days ago, I saw something about Planned Parenthood being open since 1916. Its founders were three women named Margaret Sanger, Ethel Byrne and Fania Mindell. The first clinic was in Brooklyn, New York and the original name was the American Birth Control League.
All three women were arrested for distributing obscene materials, but eventually had their convictions overturned. In 1942, it became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and it remained the only national birth control organization until the 1960’s. Margaret Sanger is recognized most commonly as the founder because of her controversial relationship with the American Eugenics Society.
Sanger wanted to promote birth control but did not agree with most of the society’s policies and fought against them. She believed that birth control, sterilization, and abortion should be voluntary and not based on race. But the stigma left a stain on Sanger’s work and intentions due to the negative modern view of eugenics.
Ironically, the next President of Planned Parenthood was male. His name was Alan Frank Guttmacher and he served from 1962-1974. This is when the birth control pill was approved by the Food and Drug Administration as safe to sell to women to prevent pregnancy.
Reproductive freedom rang and women were able to control when and how they would have and support children, married or not. Guttmacher lobbied the federal government and soon after, President Nixon signed Title X which provided subsidies for access to family planning services for low income women. So two men are responsible for the Planned Parenthood we have today which now has roughly 820 clinics.
Planned Parenthood has become a full service organization that provides women’s health services such as pap smears, mammograms, birth control, sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, and yes, safe abortions.
When people talk about “back alley abortions” they are referring to the many physicians who had to perform abortions illegally. Many women died during these types of abortions, but just how many is not clear. The physicians who performed them didn’t want to lose their practice license and therefore didn’t report them. However, there are staggering statistics about these kinds of deaths mainly from Latin America and Africa due to the lack of access to birth control in the first place. It’s important to note that only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services go toward abortion while 35% goes toward birth control.
I have learned a lot about Planned Parenthood, its history and the services they offer. Now, instead of keeping my mouth shut when someone starts whining about how Planned Parenthood should be defunded or closed, I stand up vigorously for the organization. More often than not, their arguments against them are the result of ignorance or propaganda. We should all stand up to them..
Most importantly, I remember being 16, having nowhere to go, and Planned Parenthood was there for me. I don’t want that option, especially if it’s the only option, to be taken away from women completely.