Sarah Moseley winds her way through the exam rooms and administrative offices of Planned Parenthood’s brand new $8.5 million health center on Franklin Boulevard. She makes a stop in the large, welcoming waiting room, noting that since the facility opened in early September they have seen more men than they ever have before. “We don’t know why,” she says with a smile. Yet it’s mainly men who are fighting so hard to shut Planned Parenthood down.
In this election, more so than any in recent memory, women’s reproductive and health issues have taken center stage. Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock and Congressman Todd Akin have tried to redefine rape, and Georgetown student Sandra Fluke was verbally attacked by Rush Limbaugh for her activism for women. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s promise to defund Planned Parenthood if elected has become one of the biggest issues of this election.
“I’ve said time and again that I’m a pro-life candidate and I’ll be a pro-life president,” Romney said in an interview with The Washington Post. “The actions I’ll take immediately is to remove funding for Planned Parenthood. It will not be part of my budget.”
His motivation for defunding the organization is simple — Planned Parenthood provides abortions, and he wants to stop them. But Planned Parenthood provides so much more than abortions, and if it’s defunded it could affect the way many people, especially students, access reproductive health care.
“I think all of us are probably pretty shocked to discover that we’re back to where we were 20, 50, 100 years ago,” Moseley, the communications director at Planned Parenthood’s Glenwood center, said. “It feels like a throwback. I feel like a lot of us would rather be solving problems around the world than focusing on this.”
Congressman Peter DeFazio shares Moseley’s concerns about the discussion of women’s rights. “I’m a strong supporter of a woman’s right to make all of her own healthcare decisions and I see no role for the government other than to support Planned Parenthood and family planning,” he said.
It’s hard to determine exactly what would happen to Planned Parenthood if Romney follows through on his promise to defund it. It’s likely that the burden of funding it would fall on each state individually, in which case Oregon branches of Planned Parenthood would probably be okay. The state has developed a program called Oregon Contraceptive Care, or C Care, which helps provide free reproductive health care to men and women throughout the state. It’s funded by the Centers for Medicaid Services and the Oregon State Department of Human Services through a grant, and any student who makes less than $2,328 a month is qualified to receive free reproductive health care, including birth control and contraceptive management services. Even students who are covered under their parents’ insurance are eligible.
Like Planned Parenthood, the University Health Center also offers easy access to birth control through C Care. According to Nurse Practitioner Anne Matson, most of the universities in the Oregon University Health Association are a part of C Care as well.
“Being committed for women’s reproductive health care is a huge priority to health care in universities,” she said. “(Students) are focusing on (their) future … and this is the epitome of the importance of preventative health care.”
“The idea of this program (C Care) is that you shouldn’t have to decide between groceries, gas and birth control. You should be able to get birth control,” Moseley said. “Oregon has a really great commitment to family planning and we are doing great with the transition to health reform. This state is really ahead of the curve.”
Other states aren’t so ahead of the curve, though, and that’s where the defunding of Planned Parenthood will likely hit the hardest. Texas governor Rick Perry recently attempted to exclude Planned Parenthood from being a part of the state’s Medicaid program, which would essentially force the organization to close offices throughout the state. Planned Parenthood brought the issue to a federal appeals court, but on Oct. 25 the court refused to reconsider its ruling that allowed Texas to follow through on its threat to cut off funding to the organization.
“Today’s ruling affirms yet again that in Texas the Women’s Health Program has no obligation to fund Planned Parenthood and other organizations that perform or promote abortion,” Perry said in a statement. “In Texas we choose life, and we will immediately begin defunding all abortion affiliates to honor and uphold that choice.”
DeFazio sees a huge problem with rulings such as this one. “I grew up in an era when abortion was criminal,” he said. “It doesn’t mean we didn’t have abortion; it does mean that women who weren’t wealthy had to access the services in a way that wasn’t safe.”
The problem with viewing Planned Parenthood as just an abortion provider is that it disregards everything else that the organization does.
“It’s definitely nerve-wracking when you hear ‘I’m gonna get rid of Planned Parenthood’ by a major candidate,” Moseley said. “It would be one thing if it was based on an accurate understanding of what Planned Parenthood does, but what’s frustrating is that it seems like they don’t really understand what Planned Parenthood does and the value that we provide and the services that we provide. Or maybe they do and they just don’t care.”
Planned Parenthood does provide abortions — at the new Eugene/Springfield health center they provide medication abortions, which is an option up until nine weeks into a pregnancy — but it also provides anything and everything related to women’s reproductive health. There’s a big emphasis on educating young people about sexual health, and the local branch works closely with schools and religious communities in the area. They provide what they call “Well Woman Exams,” which is a basic head-to-toe check up that many uninsured women in the area wouldn’t have access to otherwise.
“It is a real solid basic health exam,” Moseley said. “If any other medical issues were to arise, if she needs STI testing, we can do that. If it seems like she has a thyroid problem we can test for that and if that were an issue we can do a referral to another doctor. It is real basic preventative health care available to everybody.”
Yet despite all that, politicians and religious groups return again and again to the abortion issue. And it’s not just Planned Parenthood that is at risk in a pro-life presidency, it’s the entire concept of a woman’s right to choose.
“Typically, a president is going to have one or two Supreme Court nominees during the course of his presidency, and we know that the current Supreme Court has at least four members who would overturn Roe v. Wade,” said President Barack Obama in a recent interview with Rolling Stone. “All it takes is one more for that to happen.”
Romney has campaigned this election as a staunchly pro-life candidate, telling NBC News, “It would be my preference that they (the Supreme Court) reverse Roe v Wade.”
Comments like this are a concern to many.
“I firmly believe women should be able to make their own reproductive health care decisions. We’re even talking about access to contraception!” said Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, Oregon’s first District representative. “We shouldn’t even be having that conversation, it seems so illogical to me, so I’m making sure I’m keeping up that fight for healthcare and women’s rights.”
Even female students who are voting for Romney in this election believe that the antiquated focus on women’s issues is detrimental.
“I don’t feel like there is a war on women. I think old men just shouldn’t talk,” said Amy Merchant, a senior family and human services major at the UO. “Any respectable Republican man with a brain knows what rape is, and (they) respect ladies who have been through those things.”
Regardless of political affiliation, many Oregonians recognize the benefits of organizations like Planned Parenthood. The concern lies in states that either do not have a program like C Care and states that are staunchly conservative. A Romney presidency would wipe out federal funding to the entire country, and those who rely on Planned Parenthood in states like Texas would simply be out of luck. Defunding Planned Parenthood might not make a huge difference in Oregon, but nationally it could spell a major step backward for women’s reproductive rights.
“I would like students to know that there is no guarantee that abortion access will be here, that access to contraception will be here, that birth control will continue to be affordable; those are not guarantees, those are things we have to keep fighting for. Amazingly, we have to keep fighting for them,” Moseley said. “You can’t take anything for granted, and I think this election is showing that, more than ever. I mean, Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance, and there’s no reason to feel like that’s going to be fine.”
Moseley wanders through the Planned Parenthood facility as the closes up for the night, past the open-air courtyard that provides natural light to the interior of the LEED-certified building. She stops by a John F. Kennedy quote that stretches eight feet up one of the walls and perfectly encapsulates the predicament Planned Parenthood finds itself in: “If not us, who? If not now, when?”