Outlook: Five Myths about Planned Parenthood

Apr 19, 2011

Clare Coleman will be online Tuesday, April 19 at 11 a.m. ET, to chat about her Outlook piece "Five Myths about Planned Parenthood." In it she writes, "Opponents of Planned Parenthood insist that giving the organization federal dollars allows it to spend other money in its budget to provide abortions. That is not possible - there is no other money."

Have a question? Ask now.

I'm Clare Coleman, president & CEO of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association.  NFPRHA represents the broad spectrum of family planning administrators and clinicians working in publicly funded programs nationwide.  Those providers include:  state and county health departments, family planning councils, Planned Parenthood affiliates, hospitals and community health centers, and private physician and nursing practices.  I'll be answering questions about the April 17th "Five Myths About Planned Parenthood" piece, as well as questions about the policy and politics of family planning and sexual health care.


In what direction do you see the future of women's reproductive rights going in this country?

My point of view on this isn't universal, but here it is:  I don't think America will "settle" the question of abortion rights for two reasons.  First, people's experiences with love, intimacy and sex are complicated, emotional and change throughout life.  Love doesn't get easy when you meet your partner; intimacy doesn't come naturally when you turn 18.  People struggle all their lives to find intimate relationships that are respectful and good for them.  Because reproductive rights are tied together with love, intimacy and sex, there will be ambivalence and judgment and many other emotions tied up in policy decisions about abortion.  And, I think the effort to protect abortion rights is a social movement that needs to be reframed and reclaimed by each generation.  I'm 40, I grew up with abortion being legal -- the way my mother's generation talks about the pre-Roe v. Wade days doesn't resonate with me, and it sure doesn't resonate with younger women!  So I see the movement changing as younger women come to "claim" the leadership and speak to their own truth.  Maybe this attack on Planned Parenthood and all of us in family planning will turn out to be the call those younger people hear.  That's why I'm fundamentally optimistic about the future of our work. 

So it appears that your numbers / CDC total abortions means that around 40% are performed by Planned Parenthood. Where does someone else go to have an abortion? (Im really asking, and I would think this could be a myth as I thought PP was the only place to go)

There are many different providers of abortion care around the country.  The National Abortion Federation runs a hotline that is available to answer any questions you may have about abortion, including where to find a provider.  The hotline is free, anonymous and available to everyone, regardless of your circumstances.  You can reach the hotline at 800-772-9100.

Why does it always take a crisis for PP to talk about any issue other than abortion?

When I was a Planned Parenthood affiliate CEO, I was asked a version of this question often.  It is frustrating that many people -- even good supporters -- don't seem to know the breadth of Planned Parenthood's services.  In my experience, it is harder than you might think to get anyone in the media to give attention to issues other than abortion.  I would call our local paper to ask if they would cover the 20th anniversary of our affiliate's infertility support group, run by a social worker who first came to Planned Parenthood as a volunteer struggling with fertility herself, and the newspaper said no, not interested.  I asked the local media to cover an annual recognition ceremony we hosted for teens who were pregnant or parenting, to recognize achievements like getting a GED or holding down a job for 6 months while parenting.  Again, the media wasn't interested.  The only press calls I received were for comments on stories they were writing about abortion.  The media likes to cover controversy, it seems.

No question, just a comment: I'd like to thank Planned Parenthood for giving me 10 years of excellent care. I was always given excellent care there. The birth control was affordable, and because I used birth control, I never needed an abortion (a point lost on the members of the 21st century Anti-Sex League). Keep up the good fight for women's health.

Like an award presenter, I'm happy to accept those thanks on Planned Parenthood's behalf.  Thank YOU for speaking up about your experience. 

Planned Parenthood plays such a vital role in communities. Is there another organization that can provide the same services to such a large group of women?

There is a broad network of service providers that offer family planning services under Medicaid, Title X and other governmental programs.  Fifty-six percent of Title X services are delivered in county health departments, for example.  Family planning councils, hospitals and community health centers also offer Title X-subsidized contraceptive and sexual health services.  In many states, the network of care is diverse; in others, there are just a handful of providers.  You can find a Title X-funded provider by going to www.opaclearinghouse.gov

Why do you think, during a recession where no one can afford children, healthcare or gas, that politicians are focusing their attention on something like Planned Parenthood/abortion? Is it that they can't fix anything else? One would think that more focus will be placed on the PREVENTION instead of bickering...

Couldn't agree more.  Federal family planning funds support basic health care for millions of low-income people, most of whom are uninsured.  These are the folks who have been hardest hit by the recession, and many of them want to postpone a pregnancy.  Getting the economy back on track is going to be a long process, and you'd think politicians would be interested in helping people who are struggling financially access preventive care and contraception.  Also, every dollar spent on family planning saves $3.74 in public costs related to a pregnancy -- prenatal care, labor and delivery, and the first year of a child's life.  Family planning is good for women and men, good for the public health and good for the public purse.

Rev. Billy Graham said on Larry King Live that he was against abortion except in cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother. Why can't we settle on this?

Rape, incest and to save the life of the woman are in fact the Congressionally authorized exceptions to the total ban on the use of federal funds to pay for abortion care.  I think the reasons we can't "settle" is because we live in a free society where abortion is legal, and people have a range of emotions and opinions about abortion.  Most Americans support the right to choose abortion, even if they wish abortion wasn't needed, even if they don't believe they would choose to terminate a pregnancy.

What is / are the position(s) of the GOP leadership and party with regard to conrtaceptives?

The Republican Party platform from 2010 includes a number of statements about its opposition to abortion, and includes this statement: "We all have a moral obligation to assist, not to penalize, women struggling with the challenges of an unplanned pregnancy." The platform does not mention an explicit position on contraception, but does reference the party's support of a human life amendment to the Constitution.  There have been several versions of a human life amendment introduced in Congress since 1973, including versions that define person to include "unborn offspring at every stage of their biological development".  All versions intend to ban abortion, and some would certainly have the effect of banning contraception as well.

Hi, Clare! No question, I just wanted to say thank you. I worked for NFPRHA under Judy DeSarno and then later for a Planned Parenthood affiliate and loved every moment of my time at both organizations. Thank you so much for the important work you did at PP and that you continue to do at NFPRHA as the voice for Title X recipients.

NFPRHA has been working to support access to publicly funded family planning care for poor and low-income people for 40 years -- our team is proud to carry on the work that so many people have contributed to over the years.  At our recent national conference, I thanked our members and broke down in tears...it's been a tough time lately and I think the family planning network really needs to hear how many millions of people support and appreciate their work. So, thanks for saying thanks.

Planned Parenthood was the ONLY medical care I received from age 15-30 (when I finally got a job with health insurance) They provided me with yearly pap smears and birth control at a price I could afford as a struggling high school and then college student. They helped me to never NEED an abortion. If the (mostly rich and male) members of congress end Planned Parenthood's funding, who will offer medical care to poor teenagers like I was? How can they not see/understand/care that defunding Planned Parenthood=MORE unwanted pregnancies AND abortions?

Planned Parenthood affiliates are an essential part of a diverse, big network of providers, including county health departments, family planning councils, community health centers, hospital clinics, and provate physician and nursing practices.  Many patients have  stories similar to yours -- you came to our centers when you were uninsured and were able to "graduate" when you got health insurance.  Many of our patients, however, will stay in our systems for a long time, because they don't have insurance and can't find affordable care outside of our centers.  We're there for all who need care.

What factors contribute to the rate of abortion?

Access to medically accurate sexuality education, contraception and sexual health care all affect the need for abortion.  The Guttmacher Institute estimates that half of all pregnancies are unintended, and about 50% of those pregnancies will end in abortion.  In 2005, Guttmacher published some research on why women have abortions, and the reasons most often mentioned by women were their unreadiness to be a parent, concerns about money/financial stability, and the absence of a partner.  At NFPRHA, we believe that we should do what we can to prevent the need for abortion, through information, education and access to contraception.

Thanks very much for your excellent debunking piece. I have a question, and I wonder why Planned Parenthood hasn't been more aggressive about this issue: Planned Parenthood has been hit by the same radical-right scam-acting as ACORN. But unlike other non-profits, Planned Parenthood dispenses medical advice and treatment. Planned Parenthood can't respond -- even to a conspicuously obvious scam -- because of HIPAA, state-level medical privacy laws, and medical and nursing ethical requirements. People could scam Planned Parenthood every day, and the organization could never fully defend itself. I wish you'd say so. I think it would make those involved in the scams look more cowardly, and it would explain why Planned Parenthood often can't release details that would support its defense.

All family planning providers must follow federal and state law, as well as the ethical requirements for clinical care.  Misleading charges made by an organization that has publicly states its object is to "take down" and "end" Planned Parenthood won't change the relationship of trust that Planned Parenthood has built with millions of people over the last 95 years.

You said, "...most politicians who oppose abortion do not support birth control, either." What is your source for this statement? Surveys? Guesswork? I don't believe most House and Senate members oppose birth control, but they sure may oppose certain ways of funding birth control. People who can't afford - or don't want - to have children should use birth control. People who can't afford birth control at all should avoid the kind of sex that results in babies. Are you creating the need for a "5 Myths about conservatives" rebuttal next?

Well, that's up to the Post!  I certainly didn't say all conservatives oppose contraception.  In fact, some conservatives hold the libertarian view that abortion and contraception are not matters for the government.  I did say many politicians who oppose abortion also oppose contraception.  My sources for the statement include:   voting records, letters to constituents/media, statements on the House/Senate floor, and sponsorship of bills.  Ninety-nine percent of Americans will use contraception in their lifetimes, and yet half of all pregnancies are unintended.  People who use birth control have unintended pregnancies too.

There is such much focus in Congress right now on reducing spending. Can you comment on how investments in family planning services and other preventive care actually save money?

Family planning has a long, well-established record of saving both states and the federal government money; one dollar spent on family planning care leads to $3.74 in savings because public funds that would be used to pay for prenatal care, labor and delivery, and to support the child are not spent.  Other family planning services, including cancer screening and STD testing, also saves money by catching conditions that can be treated early, when it is often less expensive to address the condition. 

When President Nixon signed Title X into law, it was touted as an anti-poverty program -- to help women become financially independent, providing a way for them to finish their educations, stay healthy and plan for their families. Is Title X still effective in these ways?

The story of how two Republican Presidents (Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush) and one Rockefeller Republican came together to help create Title X in the late 60s is a great story -- there's no time to tell it here, but you should check it out.  Title X still serves as a highly effective program to alleviate poverty, by giving women and men an opportunity to plan and space their children, address underlying health conditions like obesity and diabetes that may affect a pregnancy and the health of a child, and stay protected from STDs and HIV.  During the (George W.) Bush Administration, the White House Office of Management and Budget reviewed the program and found the program's purpose, design and management were "strong".  

Should Title X funding be cut off, how will the number of unintended pregnancies rise?

The Guttmacher Institute -- again, highly recommend their work and website -- has produced fact sheets for each of the 50 states, showing how the rate of abortions and teen pregnancies would rise without Title X, as well as the amount  the state saves due to Title X.  For example, Virginia's Title X-funded services saved the commonwealth $68 million in 2008 alone.

Why are the people speaking for Planned Parenthood doing such a POOR , uninformed job letting the public know who Planned Parenthood is? I have heard two different people speaking on NPR and trully both women did an embarassing job speaking on behalf of the agency. I suggest that the spokeperson speak in numbers small enough to be understood and conceived by the everyday people. The public can push back on congress, but most people have not heard anything to push back against.

I think Planned Parenthood has done a good job at putting a "face" on their work.  As I wrote in my "Five Myths" piece, I always talked about our typical patient.  I think many, many people can relate to that patient -- she is working hard, barely making ends meet, and if it wasn't for the public funding for family planning, she would never be able to afford cancer screening or the most appropriate contraceptive.   That's why I'm so thrilled to see how many people have petitioned, called or emailed, or posted their Planned Parenthood stories over th elast few months.  Elected officials need to hear from you!  

I've availed of Planned Parenthood's services while a student in college and graduate school, and appreciate its mandate towards women's health. I don't understand why anti-abortionists don't throw their support behind the main mission of *Planned* Parenthood - you would think that they would understand the role in Planned Parenthood in reducing the *need* for abortions through access to information and birth control.

I hear you.

Why do you think there is such an attack on family planning? .... especially since there have been so many reports showing that it is one of the most successful programs in the federal government?

I think we need to do a better job at sharing the public health success story of family planning.  CDC called family planning one of the top TEN great public health achievements of the 20th century.  The Institute of Medicine found that Title X is effective and underfunded.  And millions of people rely on our network of providers -- 8,500 sites in every state and territory in the U.S.

We've seen legislators chip away at reproductive rights/justice since Roe - and I feel like we're seeing this *now* more than ever. Do you think it's going to take a crisis (like cutting Title X or overturning Roe - eesh!) to finally get the general public to realize the importance of low-cost family planning services?

I was pretty heartened by the HUGE outpouring of response to the defunding of Title X and the attack on Planned Parenthood.  For years, family planning advocates were saying that the opposition was equating contraception and abortion, and protesting the stagnation of federal funds for contraception and sexual health...but H.R. 1 makes it plain.  Family planning isn't controversial in American homes -- 99% of women will use birth control in their lifetimes, spending at least 30 years trying NOT to be pregnant.  I think H.R. 1 really got people's attention, and they spoke up!

Two questions: How/When/Why did Planned Parenthood expand its services to include healthcare for non-sexual issues. (Diabetes, anemia, high blood pressure, etc.) Thank you for all that you do on behalf of women and families.

Screening for health conditions like anemia, high blood pressure and diabetes is part of a comprehensive family planning visit, and so has always been a part of the exam.   A clinician evaluates a patient's health in order to help identify appropriate contraceptive methods -- not every method is right for every woman.

I also want to voice my thanks for Planned Parenthood. I'm 52 and still remember going to planned Parenthood with my friends to get birth control when we were around 20 years old and all still living with our parents. We knew nothing of public health services back then. Planned Parenthood was known. We were treated with respect, compassion and thoroughly trained on aspects of our sexual health before any dispensing of birth control.

Again, on behalf of Planned Parenthood, thank you for sharing your experience.

Thanks for participating in this webchat.  There are many more questions but we're at the end of the time.  I appreciate all the interest -- thank you, and have a good day.

In This Chat
Clare Coleman
Clare Coleman is the president and chief executive officer of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association. She headed a Planned Parenthood network in New York’s Hudson Valley, and worked in the U.S. House and as a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood.
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