I first became aware of the role that Planned Parenthood plays in women’s lives in the 1960’s. I lived in an urban area full of single young people and low income families. Many women used the services of Planned Parenthood in those days as a source for low cost examinations and contraception. The birth control pill was just becoming popular and women were learning about their bodies and experimenting with new feelings of sexual freedom and power. Mammography was not offered annually at that time but pap tests were. Breast cancer existed but we did not have the awareness about it that we now have. Cervical cancer has always been quite dangerous because by the time a woman is aware that she has this cancer it is often too advanced to treat. Both mammograms and pap tests have been real life savers for women and poorer women in particular.
Once the Susan B. Komen for the Cure Foundation formed a partnership with Planned Parenthood to help offset the costs of cancer screening in women, women without regular health care found this partnership genuinely helpful. It offered them low to no cost protection against cancers that are major threats to the lives of women.
But here we are at the beginning of the twenty-first century and we find ourselves at the center of a controversy that threatens women’s health once again. Pro life groups (who I identify as anti-abortion groups) are waging war against abortion. They sincerely believe that life begins at conception. They favor fighting for the life of a blob of cells (which they identify as a child) over fighting for the lives of women and children who are already living among us. They feel that they know the mind of God and that God believes abortion is a sin. They cannot help their actions because they are based in their faith that they are right. These “people of faith” are having a hard time living in a country that supports freedom of religion because their religion requires that they live the creed of their church, and that they require the rest of us to live the creed of their church also. They honestly cannot give money that might be used for abortion because their beliefs forbid it. I understand this. How do we meet the needs of these religious people and also honor our national beliefs in freedom for all people and freedom of religion. I can see that we have to separate our money. We can’t ask people to pay for something they don’t believe in.
Now these same people who do not want to pay for abortions are saying that if any federal monies go to an agency that offers abortions those funds are still enabling abortions. If these monies pay for mammograms and pap tests that frees up other agency funds for abortions and that is still unacceptable as far as these “believers” are concerned. This strikes me as fanatic and extreme but in a society that practices freedom of religion I must respect their stance, even though I wish I didn’t have to. Apparently Planned Parenthood, in order to have the freedom it requires to continue to serve the women who need their services, will have to find a way to operate with completely private funding. I don’t know if they will be able to do this. Will we lose this valuable organization? I hope not. What their opponents are telling us is that there is no way to wall of one part of their services from the other. The opposite side of this coin is that if and when Planned Parenthood becomes a privately funded business, the anti-abortion contingent will be called upon to leave them alone. I don’t believe they will be able to comply.