A Perspective on Planned Parenthood

by Janine Talis

This summer, I found myself in a position I’ve been in many times before: out of school, unemployed, and bored. Instead of moping around, watching endless reruns of “House” while slowly being absorbed by the living room couch, I decided to find something productive to do. This led me to pursue patient-based volunteer work. I ended up applying to a Planned Parenthood location in Center City Philadelphia, because it met this criterion. Many people have an opinion or view on Planned Parenthood. Politics and the media continually focus on their abortion services. Although I had sometimes considered Planned Parenthood as an abortion clinic myself, I decided to give volunteering there a chance, and the experience became much more than what I had initially expected.

Upon arrival each morning, I would sometimes pass a small group of protesters, but I never felt unsafe. I’d go upstairs, drop off my bag, grab a box of research supplies, and head back down to the Family Planning Clinic. As patients arrived, I would look through each patient’s chart to note if they met enrollment prerequisites for a research project.

Checking charts allowed me to recognize the range of services these patients were requesting. I saw people coming in for STD testing, gynecological exams, annual exams, birth control evaluation and pick-up, emergency contraceptives, and pre-cancer screenings like colonoscopies. In fact, I did not talk to a single woman who was asking for the procedure Planned Parenthood is most often associated with: abortions. Contrary to popular belief, abortions only make up 3 percent of Planned Parenthood services nationwide, while contraceptive services make up 33.5 percent.

There was such a large number of individuals coming and going that I started to realize the significant position this organization holds in the community. For many women, Planned Parenthood is the only available care center that provides them with women’s health services and birth control. Approximately 200,000 cases of invasive and 60,000 cases of non-invasive breast cancer arise in women each year, along with approximately 22,000 cases of ovarian cancer. Without the proper access to care that Planned Parenthood provides, many of these cases would go undiagnosed and untreated. Planned Parenthood clinics have long provided easy access for women without health coverage, or those who cannot afford proper care at other facilities. For some women, whether they have a low-income household or live in a less urban area than Philadelphia, Planned Parenthood is the only place to go.

My summer at Planned Parenthood gave me the chance to revise my previously held notion of their services and impact on the community. I had the wonderful opportunity to work with an organization that not only advocates for women’s health, but also gives women in the community access to the very services needed to achieve it. One in five women in this country has taken advantage of Planned Parenthood at least once in her life. That woman may have gone for a new birth control, STD testing, or a Pap smear. There is a chance that Planned Parenthood was the only clinic available to her. The reason behind her visit is irrelevant. More importantly, she had access to those vital services because Planned Parenthood was available.