One hundred years ago, on October 16, 1916, the first family planning clinic in the United States opened its doors in Brooklyn, New York. For the first time in American history, women were allowed to receive “organized instruction in birth control.” Margaret Sanger led the effort — and was thrown behind bars because of it.
The clinic’s doors were shut permanently ten days later, but the doors to women’s contraception access had opened wide. Sanger continued her efforts, through more arrests and prosecutions, and Planned Parenthood was birthed from this rocky start.
Still, it wasn’t until 1965 that a Supreme Court decision (Griswold v. Connecticut) allowed married couples to legally use contraception. Unmarried women had to wait another seven years — until 1972 — before they were “bestowed” the right to make these decisions for themselves.
Thankfully, Planned Parenthood soldiered on. The organization now runs 650 health clinics in all 50 states across the country. In honor of Planned Parenthood’s #100YearsStrong campaign to recognize their sometimes perilous, sometimes outrageously frustrating, always woman-centered journey, we’re sharing five reasons why we’re grateful for the care and services Planned Parenthood provides.
1) Helping people avoid unintended pregnancies. Seventy-five percent of Planned Parenthood’s patients receive services to prevent unintended pregnancy. Here’s the thing: birth control can be expensive. Although the Affordable Care Act requires all private insurers to cover FDA-approved birth control, there is a religious exemption. Planned Parenthood offers access to affordable contraception. Most of their patients (79 percent) are at or below 150 percent of the poverty level. Because Planned Parenthood is a Title X provider, meaning they receive funding from the federal government to provide family planning services, they are able to provide health care at much lower cost (and in some cases free), depending upon a person’s income level.
2) Providing safe abortion care. Abortion is legal in the United States (though sometimes it’s hard to tell) but in practice state (and federal) funding restrictions on the use of public funds for abortions, and bans in 11 states on private insurance coverage of abortion care, effectively prohibit low-income women from being able to terminate a pregnancy affordably. There are also literally hundreds of state laws that force women to sit through mandated state counseling, medically unnecessary ultrasounds, and waiting periods, all of which make it much more difficult for women to access safe and legal abortion care. Planned Parenthood offers abortion care in many of its clinics. They offer information about the medical procedure in all of their clinics because when a woman is pregnant and uncertain about whether she wants to be, she deserves information about all of her options: safe abortion care, adoption, or becoming a parent.
Abortion is one of the safest medical procedures and nearly 1 in every 3 women will have one in her lifetime. This is why Planned Parenthood fights for access to safe and legal abortion on every level: in the courts, in Congress, and on the grassroots level.
3) Offering breast exams, prenatal care, STI testing. Anti-abortion rights policy makers and activists never tire of their message that Planned Parenthood is an abortion “mill” that should be completely defunded. They have waged a decades long war on the nation’s largest women’s health care organization that has recently resulted in ten states passing legislation that cuts off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood. What that actually does is to strip state funds for needed health care services for lower income women and men in those states. Planned Parenthood continues to offer affordable access to the kind of health care that should not be considered controversial: prenatal care, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and breast exams, for example.
4) Teaching sex-ed. The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate among the world’s most developed nations. Half of the 19 million people who contract sexually transmitted infections every year in the U.S. are younger than 25 years old. It’s not a mystery why. States with abstinence-only sex education have the highest teen pregnancy rates. A University of Washington study found that young people who receive comprehensive sex ed are 60 percent less likely to get pregnant than those who receive abstinence-only education. And evidence from the Guttmacher Institute suggests that comprehensive sex ed helps young people “to have healthy, safe, and mutually protective relationships.”
With statistics like these, what reasons can there be to keep young people in the dark about their bodies? Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of comprehensive sex ed in the country. Every year the group reaches more than 1.5 million young people and their parents with evidence-based, effective sexuality education. And it works. A recent study found that teen pregnancy rates in the United States are declining because more young people are using contraception — and more effective methods of contraception at that. There’s only one kind of education that teaches young people about effective birth control: comprehensive sex-ed.
5) Giving us stories to share. Many of us have a story about how Planned Parenthood has been there for us when we needed a first birth control prescription, a pregnancy test, an abortion, or treatment for a urinary tract infection. My story happened when I was a few years out of college, living in a small, southern town. I was earning very little and had no health insurance. In a new relationship, I headed for the closest Planned Parenthood, where I was given a pap-smear by a kind and respectful provider and a prescription for birth control pills. It was easy and affordable. But more than that, it helped me understand that there was nothing shameful or bad about needing or wanting contraception.
What’s your story? How has Planned Parenthood helped you over the years? Share your story in the comments below, or join the hundreds who are tweeting their stories with the hashtags #100YearsStrong and #StandwithPP.