Talkin’ About a Revolution: The Vilification of the Female Health Revolution

I was having a conversation about why Planned Parenthood should/should not be defunded and when I couldn’t get anywhere I finally asked “what do you imagine the inside of Planned Parenthood offices look like?” When they asked what I meant, I asked if they saw a fully functioning medical facility or if they thought is was one big conveyor belt system with women strapped down receiving abortions around the clock like some mad science fiction version of a Looney Tunes nightmare and they replied: “Well, isn’t that what they do?” Then I asked if they knew that Planned Parenthood provided health care, cancer screenings, and yearly medical care for women, men, and the lgbtqqia+ community and was met with a blank stare. I realized that I was having a conversation with someone who did not fully understand the expansive healthcare options provided by Planned Parenthood.

I also realized that many people are entering this discussion of defunding PP from this place of being taught to react to catch phrases and slogans instead of responding from an informed perspective of the reality of exactly what PP offers to its patients. But instead of seeking information, it is easier or, more to the point, more comfortable for people to respond in terms of the morality of abortion rather than the idea that healthcare issues and pregnancy prevention education as well as other needed medical attention should be paramount to us as a way to remain healthy and in control of our own lives. And by that, I mean that we all have the right to demand fair, balanced and affordable healthcare for our bodies; whether the need is for cancer, STD or HIV screening, birth control options or abortions. All, I might add, legal, healthy options for anyone’s day-to-day healthcare.

Unfortunately, abortion has been vilified and used as a buzzword by so many with political aspirations. It is used to incite and divide and start a conversation that derails the real needs of healthcare especially to those who can’t afford other insurance coverage. If you ask someone what is the first word that pops into their mind when they hear Planned Parenthood most say: abortion. This is such an example of the how the political machine has used mass media to spread misinformation by so many politicians. They have lined the public up to get that knee-jerk reaction in an effort to start side-discussions during debates and shift us from the real issue: women need the healthcare that is provided by alternative organizations because our current health care system has really let us down. And they have let us down by not covering medications, such as birth control pills, IUDs and other forms of birth control as well as other information about our reproductive health needs.

We don’t really like to talk about reproductive health, female or otherwise. We have infomercials about health fads, quick diets, diet pills and aids like Viagra; but we don’t really talk about our gender specific health. Instead we have been taught to snicker and blush as if we were still thirteen-year-olds hearing the word “breast” for the first time in health class. We talk about sex, as in: this or that is sexy. We talk about being sensuous, as in: your hair will smell sensuous if you use this shampoo, but we don’t talk openly about periods or reproduction or things like endometriosis (which is treated with birth control pills) or a million other things that our very female bodies need. We need a place to talk about these things. And we need to talk about these things without being shoved into a dark room where we are embarrassed to even discuss it with our doctors. We have been taught to be ashamed of our female functions. They want to keep shoving us into menstrual shacks where we hide our faces and wail our curse of Eve as if we are hiding ourselves in caves of the shamed.

In so many ways we are going backward. And, with the new efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and withhold federal aid to organizations that perform abortions I thought I would look a little at the history of the organization and some of the healthcare options they offer patients.

According to the information on Planned Parenthood’s 100 years section:

“On October 16, 1916, Margaret Sanger — together with her sister Ethel Byrne and fellow activist Fania Mindell — open a birth control clinic in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Sanger, Byrne, and Mindell provide birth control information and advice to women, many of whom line up down the block. Nine days later, police raid the clinic and shut it down. All three women are charged with crimes related to sharing birth control information. Sanger refuses to pay the fine and spends 30 days in jail, where she shares birth control information with other inmates.”

Mary Sanger grew up in a family of 11 children and “her mother, whose health had been weakened by so many pregnancies, including seven miscarriages, died at age 50 of tuberculosis.” She begins to import contraception information from abroad to share with women in the United states but is stopped by the Comstock Law, passed in 1873 “to prevent the mails from being used to corrupt the public morals.” Commonly known as the Comstock-Law of 1873, it was “An Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use…” The Comstock Law also made it a crime “to sell or distribute materials that could be used for contraception or abortion, through the federal mail system, or to import such materials from abroad.” It isn’t until the 1983 ruling in Bolger v. Youngs Drug Products Corp when the court decides that (“The government’s interest in purging all mailboxes of advertisements for contraceptives is more than offset, the Court said, by the harm that results in denying the mailbox owners the right to receive truthful information bearing on their ability to practice birth control or start a family”) information on contraception can be separated from the Comstock Laws.

Under extreme duress and continued arrests, PP continue to open clinics and finally in 1951 they award a grant to Gregory Pincus, John Rock, and M.C. Chang to undertake research of the development of the birth control pill. According to in March of 1965 in Griswold v. Connecticut, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that married couples may use contraceptives. And in 1972, in Eisenstadt v. Baird, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down a Massachusetts statute that bans the distribution of contraceptives to unmarried people.

I must confess I never understand this correlation between contraception materials and the obscene or immoral. And I often wondered if that was because I saw the world from an extremely female outlook. I watched my mother have children way past the age when she should have and, honestly, did not understand how little to no information was available to her. When I would ask her why she had children so late I would be answered with a shrug that solidified the idea that we, as women, are victims of circumstance and a renewed caution that the only way to insure an unwanted pregnancy was complete abstinence.

But I was raised during the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the idea that our bodies were ours to control did not include locking ourselves away in some self-inflicted invisible chastity bubble as the only available option to protect against unwanted pregnancy. So girls began to go to Planned Parenthood clinics (sometimes driving for hours) to get birth control pills and other information about their reproductive health. There were also a few states that were legally allowed to perform abortions and the girls who hadn’t been able to get the birth control pills made the same driving treks to those states for safe abortions.

The planned parenthood Mission Statement states very clearly that it ”believes in the fundamental right of each individual, throughout the world, to manage his or her fertility, regardless of the individual’s income, marital status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, national origin, or residence.” Planned Parenthood is also committed to:

  • provide comprehensive reproductive and complementary health care services in settings which preserve and protect the essential privacy and rights of each individual
  • advocate public policies which guarantee these rights and ensure access to such services
  • provide educational programs which enhance understanding of individual and societal implications of human sexuality
  • promote research and the advancement of technology in reproductive health care and encourage understanding of their inherent bioethical, behavioral, and social implications

First and foremost there are these general health care services available: Cervical Cancer and Breast Cancer Screenings; information on Endometriosis; Pap Tests & HPV Tests; Procedures to Prevent Cervical Cancer; Information on Female Infertility, Menopause, Menstruation, and Ovarian Cancer; Pelvic Exams; treatment for vaginitis and Urinary Tract Infection (UTI).

Other general health care services vary by location and may include: anemia testing, cholesterol screening, diabetes screening, physical exams, flu vaccines, help with quitting smoking, high blood pressure screening, tetanus vaccines and thyroid screening. Click here for a list of locations offering these services.

According to the 2014-2015 Annual Report the following are just a few of tests and services provided by Planned Parenthood and their affiliates:

  • 271,539 Pap tests performed
  • 363,803 breast exams performed
  • 71,717 women whose cancer was detected early or whose abnormalities were identified
  • 578,681 unintended pregnancies averted by Planned Parenthood contraceptive services
  • 2,945,059 Birth control information and services provided

Along with these services, the site also has links for support for lgbtqqia+ community, teens, and for Men’s heath. There are links to how you can help or volunteer.

Whatever your stance on these issues, one thing cannot be denied: these healthcare services are necessary and sorely needed and are not to be taken for granted or taken away lightly. Defunding PP would leave millions in a dangerous healthcare crisis.

Visit their website for other information or ways that you can get involved.

Joan Hanna has published poetry, creative nonfiction, fiction, book reviews and essays in various online and print journals. Hanna’s first poetry chapbook, Threads, was named a finalist in the 2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Both Threads and her second chapbook, The Miracle of Mercury, are available through Finishing Line Press. Hanna has previously served as Assistant Managing Editor for River Teeth, Assistant Editor for rkvry Quarterly Literary Journal, Managing Editor for Poets’ Quarterly and Senior Editor at Glassworks. Hanna holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and teaches creative writing at Rowan University. You can follow her personal blog at Writing Through Quicksand.

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