This October marked the 100th anniversary of Planned Parenthood: one of the nation’s leading providers of sex education and reproductive health services. Though primarily supporting women, according to their website, this non-profit organization increased the percentage of men that they work with by 83 percent between 2002 and 2012. In her lifetime, an estimated one in five women visit and use resources offered by Planned Parenthood. According to the Planned Parenthood website, “women should have the information and care they need to live strong, healthy lives and fulfill their dreams — no ceilings, no limits.” Shafia Zaloom, Urban’s health education teacher, prioritizes her students’ access to accurate and helpful sexual health information over anything else. In a single year, Planned Parenthood has helped prevent approximately 579,000 unplanned pregnancies. The international division works to combat the oppression of over 200 million women and girls who lack access to modern contraceptives, information and services. According to their website, “Pregnancy is a leading cause of death for adolescent girls worldwide, with nearly 70,000 killed annually from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth.” Through all of their organizations, more than 8.5 million activists, supporters, and donors are addressing the global lack of women’s health resources.
Planned Parenthood’s beginnings are attributed to Margaret Sanger. Sanger started the first birth control clinic in the United States in Brooklyn, New York in 1916. She, along with her sister Ethel Byrne and translator Fania Mindell, were arrested and accused of distributing obscene materials at their clinic. Sanger and her cohorts were convicted in the Brownsville Trials, but in a case that followed soon after, Frederick E. Crane overturned a law to allow for physician-prescribed birth control, as opposed to nothing at all. Five years later, the organization transitioned into the American Birth Control League. In 1942, it was renamed the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in hopes of making it appear more family friendly. In 1966, the organization began awarding a select few with Margaret Sanger Awards given to individuals to “recognize excellence and leadership in the reproductive health and rights movement.” Past recipients include Hillary Clinton, Martin Luther King Jr., Jane Fonda, and Ted Turner.
According to Planned Parenthood’s website, 80 percent of the offered services go towards preventing unwanted pregnancies. When asked in a few interviews what Urban students think of Planned Parenthood, most responded with “abortions,” but according to their website, abortions only make up three percent of the offered services. Zaloom acknowledged that the “option of abortion is currently a civil right,” and she wants to make her students feel as they have all of the medically accurate information so that they can make the choice that is right for them. Additionally, Planned Parenthood helps to prevent cervical and breast cancers from going undetected through offering over 270,000 Pap tests and 360,000 breast exams annually. They also offer over 4.2 million tests or treatments annually for sexually transmitted diseases.
Under the direction of Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood has received federal funding since 1970. Though federal funding cannot be allocated for abortions, according to their annual report, Planned Parenthood receives over forty percent of their money from government grants and contracts.
For over 100 years, Planned Parenthood has supported all genders, both young and old. However, the population they serve is predominantly young people. Because of laws passed in the 1970s, teenagers have the right to keep information about visits to Planned Parenthood private from their parents. Zaloom hopes for “honest and open conversations between teenagers and their guardians,” but knows this “isn’t always the reality.”
In today’s political climate, abortion rights remain a divisive issue as demonstrated by the overlapping of The Women’s March and The Walk for Life West Coast on January 21st in San Francisco. The Walk for Life West Coast website said in response to President Trump’s pledge to defund Planned Parenthood, “It is a season where God is moving on behalf of those who have labored for so long.” In an article for the SF Gate published on January 17th, Martha Shaughnessy, an organizer for the city’s Women’s March, said her event wasn’t about getting in the face of anti-abortion activists. She went on to say, “creating pure empathy across all the issues is important.”