Thursday, February 05, 2009

What Planned Parenthood really does

Okay, so I was going to write about the case I heard about a few years ago, where Planned Parenthood fought in court for a minor's right to keep the baby; the parents wanted the girl to have an abortion, but the girl didn't want to. She went to Planned Parenthood and they fought for her right to choose what she wanted to happen to her body and her life.

Unfortunately, my cursory Google search did not pull up any links to this story. So instead, I'll just have to go with my own, less-litigious personal experience with Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood is often portrayed as this big baby-killing corporation, which makes my blood boil. First of all, most PP locations don't even perform abortion services themselves: when I had my abortion, none of the centers in Austin -- yes, Liberal Capital of The World Texas -- did. If you look on PP's website, you'll see a list of 95 health centers. Of those 95, a mere 10 provide actual abortion services; six of them are in small towns where I'll bet these services are not offered anywhere else within reasonable driving distance (towns such as Bryan/College Station). If you check the fine print, you will see that those centers are operated by a separate PP organization which does not receive PP funding. There is a center in Dallas and one in Ft. Worth that provide actual abortion services, but both are operated by Planned Parenthood Surgical Health Services, not by Planned Parenthood of North Texas, which is the organization we're talking about when we say "Planned Parenthood." That is the organization that receives funding from the government to provide health services for women. Therefore, when they talk about money for Planned Parenthood, NO, none of that money goes to abortion services (those centers receive no funding at all).

Where does the money go? PREVENTION.

Cancer prevention. Did you know Planned Parenthood performs more cervical cancer screenings than any other organization in the state? They also perform a slew of breast cancer screenings. Mostly for women who couldn't afford them otherwise.

And, of course, pregnancy prevention. (Because that's how we reduce the number of abortions, we reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies.) Education about and access to birth control.

You know what else they do?

True to the choice movement, they offer you all the choices available to you.

When I walked into that Planned Parenthood office in South Austin almost a decade ago (golly, I'm old...) I had already firmly made up my mind. I knew what my options were, I knew what my situation was, and I knew what was best for me and for that potential child, who did not deserve to be brought into the situation I would have brought it into. I was nervous, I was embarrassed, but I was firmly decided.

I told the receptionist I needed to get information about getting an abortion. (The word refused to come out of my mouth; yes, the same word I'd thrown around so carelessly when discussing politics and hypothetical situations suddenly because a sound I could not, for the life of me, utter. But the receptionist knew what word I was trying to say.)

They took me to a room, more like a private waiting room than a clinic examination room, with pamphlets in pockets on the walls and on the little side table. She asked me if I'd considered giving the baby up for adoption, and also told me there were government services that would help me raise my child if I chose to keep it.

I was confused. Why was she telling me all this? Why didn't she take me in to see a doctor? I told her what I wanted, why was she telling me about the stuff I already knew I didn't want?

Because that's what they do. They educate. They offer choices.

Even to those who, like I did, go in there saying, "I don't want to hear about my options, I already decided what I'm doing!"

In 2008, 14,000 women went in to Planned Parenthood locations here in North Texas specifically to get a pregnancy test (the centers did more tests than that, but those are the women who went in just for that). I don't know how many of those tests came out positive (they have not finished getting all the numbers from 2008 yet), but PP referred 7,410 women to adoption and pre-natal care services.

In 2007, they referred 6,225 women to abortion services. They referred 7,955 to adoption and pre-natal care services.

Planned Parenthood of North Texas works closely with the Gladney Center for Adoption to find out which services are available to women who wish to put their baby up for adoption, and other related services and information.

Again, the pro-choice movement is not about "getting abortions." It's about educating women about their options and giving them access to the information, medication, and health services they need. Planned Parenthood is about women's health -- it just so happens that reproductive health is a big part of women's health, and reproductive health happens to, sometimes, include abortion.

Thank you to Holly Morgan, Director of Communications at Planned Parenthood of North Texas, for the info on the number of referrals for 2008 and 2007 and the services PP offers.


  1. I had to choose between writing a decent comment and publishing a new strip tonight. the strip won.

    but i did have a head scratching question: often portrayed? really? i don't see that. do have (lots of) examples?

    good job so far, it makes me happy to have this to look forward to each evening.

  2. Cristina, this was really interesting. I did not know about the funding, do you know if that's just how it works in Texas or if it's how all of PP handles govt funding and abortion?

    I have to say when you first mentioned doing this I worried your posts would be more rants (justified, but still). But these have been incredibly rational and informative, so much so I think I'll have to bookmark them for referral if I get into an argument with someone about these topics in the future.

    Crisatunity-- Yes, many people view Planned Parenthood as an evil endeavor, simply b/c it's tied to abortions and women's reproductive health. I don't have specific cited examples to offer, because most of them are personal anecdotes when discussing this issue with people.

  3. A quick Google search ("Planned Parenthood" pregnancy) will give you plenty of hits to anti-choice sites that describe Planned Parenthood as an abortion provider, say PP makes all of its money from performing abortions, and call PP an abortion corporation, among other things.

    The best one is the blurb on the Google search page for The Caucus Blog (NY Times): "Pro-Baby Killing Fanatics Donating Money to Planned Parenthood in Sarah Palin's Name...Presumably so They can Kill More Babies."

    (These words are not in the blog post itself, but that's what you read on Google's page when reading the links.)

    So, yes. We hear it a lot.

  4. there are two issues here:

    first, the frequency of inflammatory labels like "baby-killing corporation"

    second, the relevance of the organizational segregation of the overall PP.


    back to the first issue -
    looking at your suggested search i gave up after four pages, finding exactly zero instances of any inflamatory-like labels of "baby-killing corporation". not one. that doesn't mean they don't exist. but it does reinforce my initial reaction that this the "often" portrayal of PP.

    the second issue -
    i didn't know about this organization segregation of PP, not at all. so that was a little interesting to learn. i can only assume that came about because of the political nature of securing grants and what not.

    however, pointing to this segregation really only matters if you want to defuse and defeat someone who is concerned that tax money is going to pay for abortions, which it looks like it doesn't for the most part, despite public perception. still, it would be difficult to refute that PP is a corporation financially joined to abortions. maybe they make money, maybe they lose money. i have no idea. but this organizational segregation technique doesn't distance the PP "brand" from the business of abortion. it is a bureaucratic/legal not ideological segregation, in my opinion. why else brand them both PP?

    i can see how you (or anyone) might attach their shared interests with one organization over the other. can you tell me if it is possible for private donations to be made for to one or the other or is it one big pool when the government is out of the equation?

  5. 1st issue: When I was searching for stuff earlier in the day, I came across several sites where at least the blurb (which I used to think was a quote from the site, but apparently it's not) either flat-out said or implied that PP performs abortions and/or instigates them; that they're in the business of abortion, so why would they want to increase awareness about pregnancy prevention. When I searched last night, after your post, the results were different (maybe I looked through more pages earlier in the day, don't know...)

    I had not seen the "baby-killing corporation" result in my earlier searches; that one was pretty extreme but the portrayal of PP as an "abortion factory" is common. Maybe the instances stick in my mind more because of how I feel about the issue, so it seems more rampant to me. Maybe I engage in discussions and read news/blogs that will show me people who refer to PP that way, because I search out info about this stuff.

    2nd issue: I don't know when this started (like I said, 10 years ago none of the PP centers offered abortion services; I was referred to a women's clinic, but now the Ben White location does, operated by the separate, non-funded "spin-off" of PP), but I'm assuming it's always been this way (or at least for a very, very long time). Whenever there is talk about government funding for Planned Parenthood, that is for the non-profit org that DOES NOT provide abortion services.

    I agree that yes, since PP does have those separate, non-funded centers that fund themselves through the services they perform, part of PP is funded by abortions. Technically, since that is a service they perform, yes, that is part of that separate branch's business.

    HOWEVER, given the facts, I find it is ridiculous to say that PP is "in the business of abortion" because that implies that is all they do. It implies they work toward that goal, when, if you look at the facts, they do not. If they were "in the business of abortion" why would they refer more people to adoption and prenatal care services than to "their business"? PP does A LOT to educate people about STIs and birth control, and they do A LOT to provide access to that birth control (I don't know if they still pass out condoms; they used to, when I was in high school a girl I knew was involved with OO and she left condoms in the school's bathrooms. There may be laws now that prevent them from doing stuff like that).

    If you look at the services they provide -- especially the services provided by the publicly-funded centers -- PP's "business" is prventing pregnancy, preventing STIs, and providing basic health care to women.

    I don't know about the doantions. I would image the books for the one and the other are totally separate (because of legal reasons, since the one is receiving federal funding), so donations would go to whichever one the donor designates. I'll see if I can find out more info.

  6. re: "in the business of abortion"

    i wasn't implying anything more than abortion is a business and that they do it. i wasn't implying that was their only business, but your interpretation is duly noted. in the future, i'll be sure to be more precise.

    as far as accusing pp of fostering abortions because of a vested interest, that's about as rational as accusing red cross of rooting for an active hurricane season.

  7. Thank you! I was trying to come up with an analogy, and I couldn't.

    I was saying "the business of abortion" because that's a phrase I read in one of the many articles/posts/stories I came across yesterday. I wasn't attributing it to you... (I realized after posting maybe I should have explained why I was putting it in quotation marks.)

  8. Criss,

    Just found you through and I'm very glad I did.

    One, you are a writer and us writerly folks must stick together.

    Two, you are writing a full month of posts on Pro-Choice and for that I can't thank you enough.

    As a woman who has been told by many medical professionals that my chances of getting pregnant are slim and the chance of carrying that baby to term near impossible, you would think that I would be against abortion (at least that's what I'm told I should believe in because of my situation). In fact I am very much Pro-Choice and have supported friends in making some difficult pregnancy decisions.

    Please keep writing, and please keep the debate going.

    Your new fan. Tina

  9. Thanks, Tina! *blush*

    One thing that has surprised me (I guess because I live in such a conservative/religious area) is how many other pro-choicers have come out of the woodwork, so to speak. There are lots of us out there! We're just not as loud as the other side can sometimes get...

  10. crisatunity-- I think the idea of noting the separation of PP from their abortion clinics was that it seems many times people argue that we shouldn't give any funding to PP because it will go to funding abortions, when it fact it does not and instead goes to providing very important, basic services for women's health (annual pelvic exams and pap smears, breast exams, mammograms, and yes also birth control). So by cutting off funding "because of abortion" you're in fact cutting off funding to these basic services that make such a huge difference in preventing cancer and disease (and pregnancy) in low-income women, the ones who need the help the most.