If you’ve been doing something for 100 years, and you’ve been successful doing it, you must be doing something right. Right? Planned Parenthood seems to have the recipe down pat. Against incredible odds and in the face of protest from myriad individuals, groups, and institutions, Planned Parenthood has persevered and flourished.

According to their website[1], Planned Parenthood now has a presence in all 50 states and Washington, DC. They are the leading provider of quality, affordable health care and sex education in the country, with 56 local affiliates that operate more than 600 health centers. Globally, Planned Parenthood supports local partners in 12 focus countries, reaching nearly 5 million men, women, and young people worldwide annually.

That’s right, we said “men, women, and young people.” The biggest misconception about Planned Parenthood is that the organization primarily offers abortions. While this is one service they offer, it is not the only one. In fact, 80 percent of those seeking treatment at a Planned Parenthood facility do so to prevent unintended pregnancy. Through Planned Parenthood’s work, it is estimated that close to 560,000 unintended pregnancies are prevented annually1. But should a woman or young adult find herself pregnant and scared, she can go to a center and not be judged, not be condemned, but be able to receive all the information, help, and support she needs to make a smart, informed choice.

The organization was founded in 1916 with the purpose of providing women “the information and care they need to live strong, healthy lives, and fulfill their dreams,”[2] which was not always an easy task. In 1916, when Margaret Sanger, her sister Ethel Byrne, and fellow activist Fania Mindell opened a health clinic for women in New York, it lasted a mere nine days before police arrested the women and shut the clinic down. Refusing to pay the fines levied against her, Sanger spent a month in jail. But she didn’t sit idle; she took the opportunity to educate her fellow inmates on birth control and their choices.

This has been the mentality of Planned Parenthood since. In the face of adversity, members and supporters stand strong and stand up in the hopes of educating those who might seek to silence them. The original purpose of that first clinic has expanded and developed through the years into Planned Parenthood’s current mission statement, which is to protect “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.”[3] 

Throughout its 100 years of existence, Planned Parenthood has supported its members as they have fought for the right of every individual to “manage his or her fertility” no matter what. It often came at enormous cost to both organization and individual, but the belief in this right has not wavered.

With this premise in mind, that an individual has a right to manage his or her fertility, Planned Parenthood offers comprehensive health care, not just abortions, but information about and implementation of contraception to those who might otherwise have no one to ask or nowhere to go. They offer testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, again for those who might choose to ignore symptoms or refuse precautions because they were too afraid to ask or couldn’t afford to. Planned Parenthood offers life-saving cancer screenings to millions of Americans who might otherwise not have access. They work tirelessly to advocate for reproductive rights, to provide education in schools and other organizations and to individuals in order to help others understand human sexuality, its changes and complexities, so that biases and ignorance do not prevail. Parents can make an appointment to get advice on how best to talk to their children about sex, how their bodies are changing, puberty, contraception, and healthy relationships. Teens who may have no one they can talk to can go online or to a center and ask honest questions and receive qualified answers and support. Education is the ultimate tool in preventing unwanted pregnancies, STIs, and other potentially expensive and devastating illnesses.

Planned Parenthood supports research in reproductive health care to continue to build on the foundations set in place by three women in 1916. They and their estimated 10 million activists, supporters, and donors are the watchdogs for men, women, and children in an ever-changing and often times confusing world.

This endeavor has been an uphill battle. For various reasons—religious, political, or other—there have been those throughout history who have attempted to stop Planned Parenthood from fulfilling its mission. In the early twentieth century, women fought for their rights on all fronts, including healthcare. As those rights came to fruition, Planned Parenthood and their supporters, while still supporting women, turned to other suppressed and misunderstood groups, including the LGBTQ community, to fight for their rights and an understanding of who they are. As with the women’s rights movement, Planned Parenthood faced detractors once again, but forged on and provided support and education, helping millions.

Lately, Planned Parenthood has faced a new threat: the movement to “defund” them. The facts surrounding this effort have been largely misunderstood. There is not a line item in the federal government for Planned Parenthood that can simply be eliminated. Planned Parenthood is not federally funded. It does not receive funds from the US government to operate. What it does receive are payments from the federal government in the form of Medicaid payments for services rendered, just as any other healthcare provider does. However, abortions do not qualify as a service that is covered by Medicaid, so Planned Parenthood (or any other healthcare provider) does not receive any federal funds for performing abortions. This is due to the Hyde Amendment, a ratification passed in 1976 that prohibits federal funds from being used for abortions anywhere except in the case of serious maternal health risks if the pregnancy continues and pregnancies resulting from sexual assault and incest.

What the detractors of Planned Parenthood want to do is prevent any federal money from going to the organization at all, which means Planned Parenthood would no longer be able to accept and care for patients on Medicaid unless they did it using their own dime. While Planned Parenthood receives numerous donations from its supporters, it is unrealistic to expect those donations to provide healthcare for the hundreds of thousands of people who now receive it using Medicaid dollars.

Having said this, it bears considering that women on Medicaid are theoretically those without other means to pay for healthcare. Excluding abortion from the coverable options essentially excludes it as an option at all for these women. If they can’t pay for healthcare, they can’t, in theory, pay for a legal, safe abortion out of pocket. This can leave these women with no choice but to carry an unwanted baby to term (hopefully with a plan to have that baby adopted, but often subjecting that baby to a life of poverty, an endless cycle) or to search out an illegal and unsafe abortion. Either choice can ultimately lead to more federal funds being spent on prenatal care or on emergency care as a result of complications from an unsafe and unregulated procedure, not to mention the strain on social services that growing families dependent on the system create. Without the education and support offered by Planned Parenthood, these low-income women, girls, and babies are forgotten and forsaken.

So the organization, with the help of its supporters, will forge on and fight for those who need it. As did the three women in 1916 who were shut down in nine days. They persisted, they learned, they educated, they failed, they rose again.

[1] Planned Parenthood: This is Who We Are. (2017). Retrieved September 20, 2017, from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/uploads/filer_public/79/bb/79bb45d5-4d6b-4ef4-833d-8ea007429267/20170526_whoweare_fs_d02.pdf

[2] Planned Parenthood: Mission. (2017). Retrieved September 20, 2017, from https://www.plannedparenthood.org/about-us/who-we-are/mission