April 27, 2011

Head of Planned Parenthood Calls on Students to Fight for Women’s Health

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In the wake of threats to federal funding for Planned Parenthood, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes Joe Sammons spoke to students on Wednesday about the future of the organization and the upcoming budget discussion.

Prefacing his discussion with the proposed cuts to Title X, a federal grant program that provides comprehensive family planning, Sammons described what he called the public’s misconceptions concerning Planned Parenthood’s primary activities and purposes.

Contrary to common belief, Sammons said, abortion does not make up the majority of Planned Parenthood’s services.

94 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services are preventative, such as providing contraception and cervical cancer screenings. Abortion makes up the remaining six percent, he said.

Sammons noted that the public, swayed by “well organized and well funded” campaigns, considers Planned Parenthood primarily to be a crusading voice for abortion. This association with the “loaded dirty word” serves as a “wedge issue” to withhold funding from the organization as a whole, according to Sammons.

Julie Spalding ’11, who attended the event, agreed with Sammons’ statement about the misconstrued purpose of P.P.

“The general population does not know that Planned Parenthood offers services other than those dealing with … abortion,” Spalding said. “Planned Parenthood is not just abortion, it is women’s health.”

Because Planned Parenthood does not use government funding for abortions, the organization’s stance on abortion should not apply to the recent government funding debate, Sammons said.

“I do not have the time to list every service that we use federal funds for, but I can tell you one that we do not: abortion,” Sammons said.

Moreover, Sammons added, most of the services for which Planned Parenthood does use government funding are preventative in nature or provide family planning assistance and work to decrease the overall number of abortions, Sammons said.

Sammons also said that, in the event that government funding is cut, Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes may be unable to provide community programs, such as the local rape crisis hotline, which derives 80 percent of its funding from government sources.

“I cannot imagine how we could support [the rape crisis center] program if those funds went away,” Sammons said. “I cannot imagine what would happen to those assault victims if those funds went away.”

Sammons also discussed to discuss the importance of the sexual education that Planned Parenthood provides to a society that downplays sex as an issue.

“When we start talking about sex in this country, we distort, we exploit, we vilify, we mock. We do everything except talk about and inform people about sex,” Sammons said. “We need to go out to wherever there are young people, wherever there are teachers, wherever there are parents and have a real honest dialogue about sex and sexuality.”

Sammons said that the opposing option, abstinence-only education, does not provide the knowledge teens need to make informed sexual decisions.

“Abstinence on its own does not mean all that much,” Sammons said. “What young people do is they act — whether they have good information, bad information or no information at all.”

Discussing the decades-long fight for increased access to healthcare for women, Sammons expressed concern that advances made in previous eras are being revoked by government propositions to discontinue funding programs like Title X. As questions about government funding for sexual and reproductive health programs are raised, society is moving “backwards” concerning women’s health freedoms, Sammons said.

“You would think that the rights we earned in one generation are preserved for the next, but they are not,” Sammons said.

Sammons called upon activists in the audience to stand with Planned Parenthood and defend the rights of women to “compassionate” healthcare.

“This is not about money. This is about women’s health and giving women the freedom to make decisions about their lives,” Sammons said.

Sammons noted that the “change in the conversation” regarding Planned Parenthood’s government funding occurred mainly because of public support. Politicians respond to the people who vote for them, Sammons said.

“We did not let [the withholding of government funding from Planned Parenthood] happen. More specifically, you did not,” Sammons said. “Over 5,000 calls went in to the congressional offices in New York State alone. Your voices changed the conversation.”

Original Author: Kayla DeLeon