HERE'S AN UNUSUAL claim to fame: One in 10 Oregon women rely on Planned Parenthood for their reproductive health care needs. Per capita, that's more Planned Parenthood use than any other state in the nation. Last Sunday, February 14, Planned Parenthood cut the ribbon on their new $12 million NE Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard headquarters in Portland with the help of national Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards and Regional President David Greenberg.
MERCURY: If you could write the national health care bill, what would it look like?
CECILE RICHARDS: We would make sure reproductive health care is considered part of basic health care, which it is for every woman. In an ideal world, women would be able to get every kind of reproductive health care they need—including abortion services.
So would that mean free birth control for people at all income levels?
RICHARDS: I think investing in family planning is the smartest investment the federal government can make, so I think they should just be dropping it out of airplanes and it should be free for every woman. It's incredible that the US still leads the western industrialized nations in unintended pregnancy, and especially in teen pregnancy.
DAVID GREENBERG: I think real health care reform would look like a Planned Parenthood. We don't ask up front for money, we figure that out after you get what you need.
What do you think is contributing to the US leading the world in unintended pregnancies?
RICHARDS: A huge part is that we have millions of women who qualify for subsidized family planning but they can't receive it because there are not enough providers or enough public money to support the system. If any woman could go into a health center and just get the family planning she needed, it would do an enormous amount to reduce unintended pregnancy. Planned Parenthood sees about three million women a year. We believe there are about 10 million more women who qualify for subsidized family planning and don't receive it.
That sounds like you think access to birth control is far more of an issue than cultural stigma or morality.
GREENBERG: The vast majority of women and young men want to be responsible, but they don't have the information. We spend a lot of time correcting the misinformation spread by the abstinence programs that were federally funded. When abstinence-only programs were first rolled out by the Bush administration, I just thought they were a waste of money. But then when young people started coming in and telling us "how dangerous it is to use condoms" and "how they don't work" and therefore there was "no point in using a condom," I realized how dangerous those programs are.
Have things on that front actually changed in the past year under Obama?
RICHARDS: Planned Parenthood was invited to the very first discussion about health care reform with the Obama administration and, oh my gosh, I never talked to anyone in the Bush administration. There was really no relationship there. It's been a 180-degree difference.
GREENBERG: In most of the western nations of the world, they treat information of reproductive health as a public health issue, not as an issue of political ideology or public morality. And what we saw in the Bush administration was just the opposite. We saw a narrowing of access to factual information, one small restriction after another that chipped away at young people's ability to access Planned Parenthood's services.
Planned Parenthood does a lot of sex ed. I'm curious how the internet has impacted your sex ed for teenagers.
GREENBERG: It's been huge. Teens no longer have to get their sex ed from the high school coach who's too embarrassed to talk about reproduction. We're now seeing about three million people a year at our bricks-and-mortar health centers, but about 17 million Americans a year for our online resources.
RICHARDS: We'll have an iPhone app by this summer. Online, young people can locate a health center, find out what kind of birth control might be right for them, and see whether they should be tested for an STD. What we're doing now is transferring all of that so it can be used in a handheld form.
For me, the internet is an elegant marriage of confidential, 24-hour access with the information that you need, no matter where you are. Ten percent of the people who visit our site are from outside of the country. Every six weeks we see someone from every single country in the world. Eighty percent of the traffic to our Spanish-language site comes from Latin America. So there's an enormous growth of information, it's increasingly accessible to people all over the world.