April 16, 2013

Planned Parenthood Representative: Women’s Rights ‘in Danger Today’

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On campus Tuesday, Joe Sammons, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes, discussed the organization’s role in continuing to fight for women’s healthcare rights, which he said “are in danger today.”

“Each one of you could find yourself in the unenviable position of having less rights and less access to healthcare than your parents did,” he said.

Planned Parenthood is particularly important in rural areas, where there are often no other clinics providing the same services, according to Sammons. He cited Elmira, a city with the sixth highest teen pregnancy rate in the state, as evidence of the need for outreach and education about pregnancy prevention.

“We need to talk to people wherever they are –– on the Internet, in schools, in malls,” he said. “We need to talk to teens, but also to parents and teachers.”

Planned Parenthood has always had to fight to do its work, Sammons said.

Founded in Brooklyn in 1916 by Margaret Sanger, Planned Parenthood was first a clinic and a source of information about birth control methods –– most of which were already commonly in use in Europe at the time. When Sanger and other volunteers attempted to pass out information on the streets about birth control, they were arrested, according to Sammons.

Planned Parenthood was later involved in the development of the birth control pill and spent 10 years lobbying the Food and Drug Administration to approve it for sale. After the FDA approved the pill, it was illegal in many states until 1965 even for married couples to use it, according to Sammons.

“Even now, I’m amazed by the discussion –– if you could call it that –– about women’s health,” Sammons said. He recalled the all-male witness panel last year in a congressional hearing about insurance coverage for contraception, as well as statements made about “legitimate rape” by former Rep. Todd Akin (R-Mo.), that he said led to the 18-percent gender gap among voters in the last presidential election.

“Fundamentally, with [Republican] attacks on women’s health, people figure out what’s at stake here,” he said. “If a woman doesn’t have access to birth control, she might have to drop out of school [and] change her education plans. She’s got another mouth to feed. It could even be deadly.”

Planned Parenthood has faced criticisms for providing abortions from pro-life activists and conservatives. In 2011, some members of congress had proposed to cut all federal funds to Planned Parenthood, prompting heated debate about women’s reproductive health rights.

Johanna Zussman-Dobbins ’13, president of Cornell’s Voices for Planned Parenthood, echoed Sammons’ sentiments about the importance of fighting for women’s healthcare rights.

“It’s something our generation forgets –– how urgent this issue is,” she said. “We’re post-Roe v. Wade, and people don’t remember back-alley abortions.”

Though legislation in many states is “moving backward,” Sammons said, New York has an opportunity to make progress on women’s rights. Governor Mario Cuomo recently proposed a Women’s Equality Act, which would promote equal pay for equal work, stop pregnancy discrimination and stop sexual harassment in the workplace, among other goals.

However, Sammons emphasized that politicians could not win the battle by themselves. He urged the audience to take collective action to promote women’s rights.

“Collective action brings power,” he said. “When it comes to Planned Parenthood, that means that you can decide if and how long you want to go to school. It means you can decide for yourself if and when you want to have children. That’s power. We earned that power through years of work, and we’re not going to lose it.”

Original Author: Sarah Cutler