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Give thanks for Planned Parenthood

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In this season of giving and thanks, I give thanks for Planned Parenthood.

Because of its mission to deliver preventive care, Planned Parenthood is a vanguard for upward mobility—especially to those who otherwise would not have access to health coverage.

By giving individuals control over their own childbearing decisions, Planned Parenthood has made it possible for women to support their families, earn degrees, hold office, serve their communities, and pursue careers.

Take teen mom Michelle, one of those folks whose life improved drastically: "If it wasn't for Planned Parenthood and the many services that they offer I would've had another unplanned pregnancy and that would've put my education on hold. I know I wouldn't have graduated from high school, and I certainly wouldn't have attended Cal Poly."

Despite its popularity, threats to "defund" Planned Parenthood continue unabated from the likes of Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and other congressional Republicans, who pander to a loud minority of voters. Abortions account for approximately 3 percent of Planned Parenthood services, according to annual report data.

Defund is actually a misnomer. The organization is not funded directly by the government. It's reimbursed by Medicaid for care to low-income individuals or through Title X, the nation's family planning program. Right-wing proposals, such as the repeal of the Affordable Care Act embedded in the tax bill advancing this moment in Congress, would literally block millions of patients from accessing care at Planned Parenthood.

Jenna Tosh, the organization's Central Coast president and CEO, tells me that 2.5 million women and men are served by Planned Parenthood nationwide each year.

"In California, 850,000 people count on us for basic preventive care," she emphasized, "including cancer screenings, birth control, and sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment."

Tosh is adamant about the organization's vital role: "We are a critical safety-net prover. We're a trusted and nonjudgmental source of health care."

The five Central Coast Planned Parenthood health centers (Santa Barbara, Santa Maria, Ventura, San Luis Obispo, and Thousand Oaks) serve 35,000 patients annually.

"In the last year, we performed 498 breast wellness exams, 10,055 STI tests, and 442 cervical cancer screenings in addition to providing contraceptive services to 91 percent of the women we serve," Tosh said.

Obviously, there's a ton of numbers thrown around in the debate and rhetoric surrounding Planned Parenthood. But to fully understand its value to our community, just listen to the local individuals it has served:

When Jo was a teenager, she had no one she could talk to about birth control. "Planned Parenthood gave me birth control pills and condoms and educated me on STDs. It is vital to women's health," she said.

College student Lisa had to make an informed decision about birth control. "I believe that reproductive self-determination must be voluntary and private. My experience with Planned Parenthood showed me that self-determination enhances your quality of life and strengthens strong family relationships," Lisa said.

Cal Poly bio-chemistry student Michelle was introduced to the Planned Parenthood through Teen Success, a support group for teen moms who meet weekly, talk about being parents, and learn how to prevent future unwanted pregnancies. "Listen, Planned Parenthood is really important because it provides an inviting and nonjudgmental environment," Michelle said.

And men feel welcome as well. One of the strongest local Planned Parenthood proponents is Faride, whose experience 20 years ago cemented a lifelong belief that the group is "one of the best things we have going in this country, right up there with NASA."

At the time, Faride was going through a divorce, was laid off from his job in the airline industry, and subsequently lost his Kaiser medical insurance. He developed a horrendous, painful rash on his penis that caused embarrassment and confusion. Being celibate, he began to worry that he had "caught something" from a public toilet. He grew increasingly anxious and depressed.

"I was desperate," Faride said. "I turned to Planned Parenthood. They were professional, generous, and attentive. They made me feel completely comfortable and were able to diagnose the problem and prescribe medication.

"I've been happily married for 15 years to the love of my life, and have a great job on the Central Coast, but I am still deeply humbled by the care I received from Planned Parenthood. You hear all this negative propaganda, but I am forever grateful to live in a country in which we have compassion and the good sense to help each other."

Tosh said she is one of the one-in-five women in the U.S. who has received care from Planned Parenthood. She has dedicated her professional career to fight for the ability of women to control their own lives and destinies, and to make permanent a vital provider of affordable, safe health care for people with limited means.

Eighty percent of Americans agree with Tosh and Faride. Let's work to make sure our representatives in Congress stop pandering to a narrow constituency and find the compassion and good sense to cease their attack on Planned Parenthood. Δ

Amy Hewes is actively involved in grassroots political action. Send comments through the editor at clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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