You might have caught the news that Bernie Sanders referred to Planned Parenthood as "the establishment" this week on Rachel Maddow, hitting back on the news that the famous reproductive rights organization had endorsed Hillary Clinton. Competition between the two Democratic frontrunners is heating up and both are coming out swinging, but many — Bernie and Clinton supporters alike — were taken aback by the comments.
Because if Planned Parenthood is "the establishment," who knows what even counts as leftist anymore. The organization has worked tirelessly for reproductive rights since 1916, offering not just extensive health services to patients but also participating in legislative lobbying, and acting as an aggressive ally for people of all ages who need a variety of reproductive health care including birth control, STI testing and treatment, cancer screenings, family planning advice, and pregnancy care.
At the same time, the organization has faced systemic attacks from the right, which has repeatedly tried to strip it of federal funding in addition to putting it square in the sights of targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws which are deliberately designed to close down standalone abortion clinics. In an era where Catholic healthcare is acquiring hospitals left and right, this functionally means that patients have nowhere to go when they need abortion care. And it means that patients, especially those of low income, also can't access the range of other services Planned Parenthood offers.
It's not just under legal fire. In 2015, the Center for Medical Progress targeted Planned Parenthood with a series of highly manipulative videos designed to paint the organization as a charnel house chopping up babies for profit. Multiple Planned Parenthood locations were damaged in arson attempts in the months following the videos, while three people were shot and killed at a Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado in November — all told, there have been 11 deaths involving anti-choice activists since 1993, and countless cases of harassment and abuse of providers and their families.
If Planned Parenthood really were the establishment, we'd be living in a pretty sweet world, I'm not going to lie. Here are just a few examples of the services Planned Parenthood provides, many of which are not accessible via any other means for low-income people, rural residents, and people in blighted regions of major cities. Of note: Nearly 80 percent of Planned Parenthood's clients are at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level.
It's number one for a reason, even though it makes up a relatively small percentage (three percent, to be exact) of the services Planned Parenthood offers. Abortion care is vital for people who do not want to keep their pregnancies, whether a facility offers it directly or refers a patient to a provider (many clinics don't have the capacity to offer abortion services). In rural areas where full-time abortion providers aren't available, some facilities offer telemedicine abortion, which enables abortion access to people who cannot travel for care. All people should have the ability to terminate pregnancies safely and without judgement or commentary and this right shouldn't be in question, but it is.
2) Birth control
There are a range of birth control options available, but most require a prescription (some states are expanding access to OTC options), and some need a physician visit — such as an intra-uterine device. Doctors at Planned Parenthood facilities across the country meet with patients to discuss their unique needs and the options available before providing appropriate birth control care. That includes following the latest medical recommendations and standards, such as IUDs for youth interested in preventing pregnancy. 34 percent of Planned Parenthood's activities include contraception services.
3) Cancer screening
Breast and cervical cancer are serious — roughly 105,000 patients die of these cancers annually — and Planned Parenthood conducts nearly 500,000 breast per year and 400,000 cervical cancer screenings in addition to referring patients to oncology providers and hosting mobile mammogram vans at their facilities. Since the organization is the primary point of care for many patients, cancer screening is critical, because it offers early detection and a much better chance at successful treatment. Low-income patients may not be able to afford regular medical exams at other sites, and thus a cancer could metastasize considerably before a patient seeks attention without the intervention of Planned Parenthood. 10 percent of patients see Planned Parenthood for cancer screening and prevention.
4) Parent education
A lesser-known service of Planned Parenthood, parent education provides new and prospective parents with information about safely caring for and raising children. Infants and young children have needs that can be overwhelming for first time parents even when they're in it together and they have the best interests of their children in mind. Education provides a chance not just to learn about how to take care of children, but to ask questions in a safe environment, and to network with fellow new parents to build a better social net.
5) Lobbying and advocacy
Reproductive rights need a voice in state and federal legislatures, and lots of groups — like NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Abortion Federation, and the National Organization for Women — represent the interests of people in need of reproductive health care. Planned Parenthood joins them in communicating about legislation that would increase or decrease access to health care services, encouraging legislators to protect and expand access and working to oppose bills that would limit freedom of choice.
6) Sexual education advocacy
Planned Parenthood wants to see comprehensive sexual education in the schools, and it lobbies schools directly in addition to empowering parents to present their school administrators with compelling arguments to improve the quality of sexual education. In addition, as part of its parenting education program, the organization provides parents with information on how to talk to children and teens honestly and openly about their sexuality.
7) STI testing and treatment
Patients can receive STI screening — whether routine or in response to a specific concern — at Planned Parenthood facilities, as well as treatment. Health care providers also help people manage chronic conditions like genital warts, offer emergency intervention like PrEP to people who have been exposed to HIV, and educate people on how they can avoid passing chronic STIs on to sexual partners. 41 percent of the organization's services revolve around STI care.
8) Prenatal care
Though many people associate Planned Parenthood with abortion, their providers are just as interested in the other end of the spectrum: They want to see happy, healthy babies born to loving, excited parents. Prenatal care services including routine services, counseling, and more are available at Planned Parenthood facilities all over the nation — and many of the pregnant women who take advantage of them are forced to walk a line of protesters who scream at them about killing their babies on their way to every appointment.
9) Adoption referrals
Pregnant, but not interested in abortion? Planned Parenthood counselors can discuss adoption options and help patients connect with agencies who will place children with adoptive families. While the organization doesn't personally run such services, it's eager to help patients who want to discuss the option — including those who, again, may be encountering screaming protesters on their way to talk about the best outcome for their pregnancies.
10) Family practice services
While general family practice issues like managing ear infections, handling coughs and colds, addressing urinary tract infections, and meeting other basic health needs aren't available at all Planned Parenthood locations, some do offer them. Low-income patients may have few alternative options, making Planned Parenthood an optimal provider of such care, and services can include on-site pharmacies, counseling and assistance with obtaining government benefits like Women, Infants, Children, and more.
11) International health services
The importance of Planned Parenthood isn't limited to U.S. shores. The organization provides health care, training, and advocacy in ten countries across the global south, serving some 725,000 people.
If all that makes Planned Parenthood a part of "the establishment," then viva la establishment!
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