OP-EDS

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October 22, 2007

Dispelling the “great myth” of Planned Parenthood

I was scanning the Tribune not so long ago when I came upon a phrase in the “Voice of the People” section that caught my wavering eyes.

“…the great myth of our time: that sex is a right rather than a responsibility.”

I shot forward with rage, instinctively jeering at that awful, harrying, grown-up word—responsibility. Or perhaps it was the “sex” that drew me in, and the “responsibility” that kept me there.

The letter concerned the recent opening of Planned Parenthood’s new clinic in Aurora, but perhaps it was more about the last measure in a game of word association: abortion. The author reviled Planned Parenthood and “similar organizations” that receive “hundreds of millions of dollars” to promote that wanton myth of our time, and claimed in the same breath that “the whole reproductive issue is not about health care.”

This author, who sees himself as a “pro-life” advocate, is clearly a little mystified. If we pour in some facts with what he’s given us, perhaps the myth will separate out like oil from water.

Planned Parenthood is a leading name in reproductive health care across America, kind of like Heinz is a leading name in ketchup, except that one is controversial and the other is bottled up in strange colors, last time I checked. Planned Parenthood works to promote and provide access to comprehensive reproductive health care and medically accurate sexuality information. (Full disclosure: I have volunteered at Planned Parenthood Chicago Area.) Until Planned Parenthood, remember, everybody thought that babies came from benevolent storks soaring from the heavens—perhaps we could call that the great myth of a former time.

But back to the present. Planned Parenthood affiliates receive funding by different means, but the primary sources are private donations, clinic fees, and federal and state government. This latter category is epitomized in the Title X program, which provides limited funding for permitting access to comprehensive reproductive health to those who would otherwise be unable to afford it. Title X–funded clinics are the only medical care that many of the five million American women who visit them will see in a year, and Planned Parenthood clinics, by sheer number and socio-economic geography, take the lion’s share of this funding. Title X is not to be used for abortion, and it is not some kind of cash cow for the organizations that receive it. The reproductive issue is in no small measure, it turns out, “about health care.”

Consider the services that Planned Parenthood clinics offer around the country: STI testing and treatment, pregnancy testing and counseling, birth-control services, gynecological health, HPV vaccines, and abortion services. Note that only a fraction of clinics perform abortions, but this has not deterred some “pro-life” protestors from praying and flailing around “Planned Parenthood Abortion Kills” and such signs irrelevantly in front of clinics that do pap smears and breast exams.

“Hundreds of millions of dollars” are not going to fund Planned Parenthood’s genre of comprehensive sexual education, which includes the simple fact that abstinence is the only sure-fire way; in fact, that money is being funneled into the gaping sieve of abstinence-only education, which has been demonstrated to have no more influence on sexual activity than no such education whatsoever. The U of C’s National Opinion Research Center found that a solid majority of soi-disant “sex education” programs in Illinois do not provide information on the use of condoms or other forms of birth control, or where to get contraceptive services and reproductive health information. Some don’t even deign to talk about handling rape and sexual assault. A separate poll found that 83% of Illinois voters believe that students should be provided with accurate information about birth control and STIs.

If anything, Planned Parenthood works to make it clear that sex bears a tremendous responsibility. With sexual activity come questions of infection, disease, and pregnancy. The organization is indispensable in helping to prevent abortion, and its message of “Prevention First” reflects that. By providing information, education, and contraceptive services, Planned Parenthood helps reduce demand for abortions in the first place.

Sexual responsibility is a relevant issue for all of us, regardless of our religious or political leanings, or our quarterly workload. We must confront the fact that abortions are sometimes necessary, and on the other hand, take stock in the opportunities to forestall the need for them by investing in education and providing universal access to contraceptives. The clinic in Aurora will help to treat and reduce the transmission of STIs, provide men and women with reproductive health information and services, and, yes, perform abortions. This comprehensive approach is the epitome of responsibility.

Marshall Knudson is a second-year in the College majoring in political science and romance languages and literature. His column appears every other Tuesday.