Monday, September 12, 2011

Everything's Bigger in Texas, Including My Disappointments

I truly have no idea, but somehow, this news slipped through the cracks and didn't make it to me until today, when a friend posted the story on Facebook.

After nearly 40 years of partnership, the state has cut its ties to Planned Parenthood of Austin, defunding its East Seventh Street clinic, which provides basic reproductive health care and family planning services to low-income and uninsured women. The clinic last year received $474,000 to provide services to approximately 3,700 women; now it will get nothing, and neither will its clients. Notice of the cuts came just four days before the beginning of the new fiscal year, leaving area providers scrambling. "We didn't expect zero funding with four days' notice," Sarah Wheat, interim co-CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region, said at a press conference last week.

My sadness and anger at this situation is...well, I'm not sure there are words for it. I work in the nonprofit sector, closely with Planned Parenthood. I know most everyone in their Health Education department, personally and professionally. They are a team of dedicated, compassionate, intelligent educators who care deeply about spreading good information to young people and their parents. I have had meetings to discuss sexual health programming for Central Texan teens in the offices of that very clinic on East 7th Street--where they house not only the standard clinic, but also their teen center.

Thinking about the implications of a loss of almost $500,000 to their organization is heart-breaking.

However, this situation has ramifications well beyond the employees (even though they are at the forefront of my mind since I know them.) Like Ms. Wheat said later in the article, "The impact is going to be even bigger than we can even calculate at this point." Yes, the impact is incalculable, but for anyone who has access Planned Parenthood's vital services when they needed them the most, knows personally about the cost.

Let me give my personal anecdote, from when I regularly accessed Planned Parenthoods in Indiana (another story of disappointment!) I was 22, and I had discovered a lump in my breast. I was petrified of the possibilities and I didn't seek medical treatment for quite some time. Finally, at my annual exam with the nurse practitioner at Planned Parenthood, I felt comfortable enough to ask her about it. She checked me out and calmed me saying that it seemed to be a hormonal cyst, with the kindest words and soothing care. She referred me to the Indiana Breast Center where they confirmed with an ultrasound that it was nothing serious. It was because of accessing affordable, compassionate care that I finally confronted my biggest fears and was examined.

I am so lucky. My story turned out to have a very positive ending. But somewhere out there, there was a nerdy feminist who didn't have an affordable, trustworthy health provider to turn to, who continues to fear the abomination growing in her breast, and has no idea if it will someday kill her. Nowhere to turn.

Women who need to access low cost, reliable health care have so very few options. Unfortunately, they are often caught in a highly politicized environment, which sways to the whims of zealots over continuing to grant them life saving services. I am pro-choice, there is no question about that. But the greater purpose of an organization like Planned Parenthood is to actually prevent the need for abortions in the first place by not only making birth control accessible to a much wider audience, but also with good, solid information provided by those community health educators. It amazes me that this fact is almost always overlooked.

If you are able, please consider donating to the downtown clinic to continue to provide a litany of life saving reproductive and health services to Austin's neediest individuals. And if you are not in Austin and you prefer to support your local Planned Parenthood, you can do so here.

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