Being There For Women, Families
Wednesday - August 24, 2011
I was young, away from home for the first time in my life, and I needed a place to go for what was known back then as “female stuff.” You know, female stuff like a gynecological exam, a pap smear, and some sort of reliable birth control. I had no insurance and little money. So I went to the only place I knew would help: Planned Parenthood. The good people there gave me reassurance, medical care, pregnancy preventive counseling and tools and, most important, peace of mind. It was a relief to know I wasn’t alone.
CEO Andrea Anderson says that’s exactly what Planned Parenthood still does today: “We’re the ones to talk about these really tough topics. We’re the ones who are there when no one else is. We’re the ones who take care of you when you don’t have insurance. We’re the ones who advocate to parents about how to talk to their kids about sex, or provide counseling when a woman finds herself with an unplanned pregnancy. So, yeah, we’re the ones.”
Planned Parenthood is celebrating its 45th year in the Aloha State this month. And even though the health care provider has been attacked and vilified by some political conservatives on the Mainland, Anderson says that hasn’t been the case here.
“That was one of the things I loved about coming out here. I came from Michigan, which is a rather conservative state, and my previous Planned Parenthood affiliate had been fired on twice.”
The attempts by some in congress to defund Planned Parenthood by branding it as an evil abortion mill backfired when supporters rallied with facts. Anderson herself does not back away from the issue. Yes, she says, they do provide safe, legal abortions to women who choose to have them. But that is less that 10 percent of what Planned Parenthood does.
“More than 90 percent of what we do is about empowerment, education, ensuring that people have access to safe, confidential and affordable reproduction and sexual health.”
And Anderson points out that abortion is not funded with government dollars. It would be unfair, Anderson says, to ask taxpayers to foot the bill for a procedure that remains so controversial.
Anderson has been with Planned Parenthood for more than 20 years and has watched the controversy simmer and grow. She was a little shocked at the general lack of hatred here when she arrived 18 months ago to take the helm of the Hawaii branch.
“At first I was concerned that security was not as stringent as it was in Michigan, and my staff was like, ‘Um, people here love us.’”
Still, Anderson says it’s not smart to become complacent. “We’re seeing more protesters, but they’re very polite here, which I think is part of the culture. We have seen an increase (of protesters) here on Oahu; we’re seeing an increase outside of our offices over in Kona.”
The political drama and misinformation campaigns have been frustrating, she says, but have given them, on a national level, a reason to remind people of Planned Parenthood’s mission. They’ve had to reach out, to fight back and to communicate more effectively with the community. It’s led to some soul searching at the top levels of the organization. They were surprised to find that the public wanted them to speak up and take back control of the political conversation.
“More people wanted us to step up to the plate and talk back. They were telling us, we kind of need to hear from you.”
That’s led to the current goal: the “rebranding” of Planned Parenthood.
“How can people know more about us? How can people know more than, oh yeah, that’s the place you go when you need birth control. We do so many other things.”
Anderson says Planned Parenthood of Hawaii has a lot on its plate right now. Expect to see it on Kauai this year. It’s also updating to an electronic record system and getting ready for health care reform. Even as it expands it will remain what it has always been: a valued member of our local community and an important resource for women and families.
“Hawaii has been so welcoming. And I think that’s just part of the culture, part of the overarching culture. Part of the Hawaiian culture and the Japanese culture and the Filipino culture ... We’re not a melting pot, more like a chopped salad. It’s so diverse here.”
And that may be one of the keys to acceptance and success in Hawaii.
“People here seem to be very pragmatic in the views of health and family. The attitude is, it’s part of your health? Let’s go take care of it.”
Planned Parenthood expects to be here, taking care of women, for a very long time.
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