One-hundred and one years ago, the organization now known as Planned Parenthood began fighting for women's reproductive rights. Since then, they have championed the full legalization of birth control pills, access to contraceptives, progressive sex-ed, routine STD testing, cancer screenings, abortion rights, and more. Today, the nonprofit remains bizarrely politically polarizing, even though a majority of Americans think it should continue to receive government funding, and 2.4 million people depend on it for affordable and comprehensive healthcare.
In 2017, a century and a year into the organization's existence, its supporters and architects are continuing to look forward, hoping that the next hundred years will bring less misguided attacks from conservatives, less politicization, and more access to the reproductive care we all need. "I think this current political environment is going to make it even harder" to continue this fight, said PPFA president Cecile Richards in an oral history commemorating Planned Parenthood's 101st anniversary. "But everything we know about all the attacks now on women's access to health care are going to be disproportionately felt by women of color, women with low incomes, women in the southern United States. And so, it's doubly our responsibility now to make sure that those women don't fall further behind in terms of their opportunities."
By "current political environment," she doesn't merely mean the Trump administration, which is openly and virulently hostile to reproductive rights and abortion access, though that's certainly threatening enough in its own right. The current attacks on Planned Parenthood stemmed from the 2010 congressional elections, in which Republicans swept the House and Senate and almost instantly turned their focus onto reproductive rights. In 2011, the Pence Amendment—named after none other than our sitting vice president—attempted to effectively defund the organization, though it failed to pass the Senate. In the years that followed, conservative lawmakers attempted tirelessly to gut Planned Parenthood and shutter abortion providers throughout the country. In 2015, following the release of several deceptively edited "sting" videos that purported to show the organization was profiting from the sale of fetal tissue—a claim the organization has vehemently denied—these attacks increased in intensity. Between 2010 and 2015, nearly 300 restrictions on women's abortion access were enacted in the United States.
And yet, Planned Parenthood has remained an integral and important part of American society. Republican legislators have put the organization through hell in the last seven years, but conservatives who underestimate the group should remember that they've been fighting for their right to exist for over 100 years—and winning. The organization is literally older than sliced bread, and nearly as popular. One in five women have visited a Planned Parenthood. In January, over four million women attended the Women's March, and many expressed fear that the Trump administration would threaten their reproductive rights.
I hope that we can become an even more integrated fabric of the public health system.
In the face of a very real threat, politicians on the left have taken steps to protect reproductive rights in general, as well as Planned Parenthood specifically. Earlier this year, for instance, Maryland passed a law ensuring Planned Parenthood locations in the state will continue to receive state funding even if cuts are made at the federal level; other states, like Oregon, have pushed further, introducing landmark laws that guarantee more reproductive freedom than ever. In August, lawmakers passed legislation requiring insurance providers to fully cover all reproductive health services—including abortion.
And while Planned Parenthood does perform abortions, a service it is proud to provide, it also provides women, men, trans and non-binary people, people from disadvantaged communities, and anyone else you can think of with the education and health care that many of them wouldn't have affordable access to otherwise—especially in the Midwest and the South, where family planning clinics and comprehensive sex-ed are scarcer. These services are vital, and they shouldn't be seen as controversial, advocates say. Former board member of PPFA Valerie Mccarthy hopes that in the next hundred years we see Planned Parenthood depoliticized. "[I hope] it's the health care place on the corner. It's not a big deal. You can go there if you want, or don't go there if you don't want, and they provide great services, and there you go, it's the end of the story."
"I hope that we can become an even more integrated fabric of the public health system," says Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, the chief medical officer of PPFA. "That my dream of a person's access to high quality services would not depend on all the demographics now that affect access to care, like where they live, and who they are, and whether or not they have health insurance."