“For many women who are using health care for the first time on their own as adults, Planned Parenthood is the first place they use,” says Skeek Frazee, congressional staffer for Chellie Pingree, who has been working to help women get better access to health care for over two decades. She spent 16 years working at the Portland Planned Parenthood clinic, and calls the women who work there the “kindest, boldest, strongest people.”
“Young women know they can get affordable care at Planned Parenthood, because we price everything on a sliding scale,” she adds. Whether they’re looking for contraceptive options, a quick check-up, a cancer screening or an abortion, Planned Parenthood makes it possible for young women to get health care quickly, efficiently and affordably.
A lot of the conversation around Planned Parenthood, an organization that got its start offering birth control to women in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1916 and now operates more than 650 clinic in the U.S., tends to center around one contentious issue—abortion—despite the fact that the organization does a lot more than providing just one service. “Ninety-five percent of what we do is preventive care,” says Nicole Clegg, VP of public policy at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. “The overwhelming majority of the patients we see are coming in for birth control, STI treatments, cancer screenings—your regular annual exams.”
She adds, “When you’re itching or burning, or if you’re in pain, we know how to handle it. We’ve got your back.”
In addition, Skeek says, Planned Parenthood was a leader in the AIDS movement, provided door-to-door educational services about the Zika virus and has been instrumental in providing care to transgendered patients. Plus, “10 percent of our patients are men,” Nicole says. “We provide services they need, like exams and STI testing and treatment.”
It provides these services under near constant attack on the national level.
“Every session for the past 30 years, lawmakers have tried to restrict women’s access to health care,” says Skeek. “They try to impose mandatory waiting periods on abortions or instate TRAP laws (laws that single out medical practices where doctors provide abortions and set burdensome requirements that other medical practices are not subjected to are known as Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers). Every session, we’re fighting about the same old stuff.”
The national conversation about health care has long been dominated by male lawmakers and Planned Parenthood has often been a target. Vice President-elect Mike Pence led an effort to end public funding of Planned Parenthood in 2011, which ultimately failed, but his opinion on the matter hasn’t changed since then. President-elect Donald Trump, in a town hall meeting in Green Bay, Wisconsin, last March, said women who have had abortions should be punished. These decision-makers often display little or no knowledge about medical procedures they are trying to restrict. During the second presidential debate of 2016, Trump inaccurately claimed, “you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby.”
The problem, as Skeek sees it, is that there are two differing world-views about citizens’ bodies. “I believe these are fundamentally decisions, medical choices, life choices, that must be made between a woman and her physician. Not by politicians,” Skeek says. “That is the schism. Who gets the final decision? I would say that decisions never should lie with an elected official.”
“True reproductive freedom isn’t about just health care,” Nicole explains. “It’s about the ability to live your fullest, most-authentic life. An unintended pregnancy can derail a career. It can hurt your future.” By providing preventative care—and yes, by providing abortions—Planned Parenthood helps women take control of their lives. “We want to help people make decisions for themselves, to realize their goals,” says Nicole.
Behind all their good work, behind all the STI tests and the cancer screenings, there’s this big, important notion of freedom. Choice. When you can control your body, you gain control over your future.
Joanne D’Arcangelo, a lobbyist who has been working as a women’s rights advocate for 35 years, says she is hopeful about the future of healthcare, despite the recent setbacks. “We have more young men than ever joining the cause,” she says. “I am enormously encouraged by the younger generation of folks who are doing this work with passion.”
We don’t “have the luxury of staying silent,” as Joanne puts it, and we can use our voices to speak up for health care. “I feel like I’ve been saying this forever, but there is a big need for personal, one-on-one, informed conversations about health care,” she says. “Don’t leave anyone out.” When it comes to protecting reproductive rights, everyone, regardless of gender, age or religion, has a role to play.
Katy Kelleher is a writer and editor who lives in Buxton with two dogs and one husband.
How to support Planned Parenthood
Writing a check is great, but you can also support Planned Parenthood by using their services, particularly if you already have health insurance. “People often have the misconception that you age out of Planned Parenthood when you get a ‘real’ doctor and health insurance,” says Nicole Clegg, VP of Public Policy at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. But the money paid out to Planned Parenthood by insurance companies goes further, allowing Planned Parenthood to provide services for women who don’t have insurance on a sliding scale.
For more information about Planned Parenthood in Maine: www.plannedparenthood.org/health-center/ME