New Orleans Everything about a woman’s right to choose about their body and well-being when it comes to procreation seems political in the United States now, especially after the Supreme Court eviscerated the long-established precedent of Roe v. Wade with the Dobbs decision. The added attack on the FDA’s more than twenty-year approval of various medications to block pregnancy, which is currently suspended under court review, raises the temperature even higher on these issues as the access to abortion is further imperiled and now barred in state after state, as conservative legislatures act ever more aggressively against women and their families, often even willing to sacrifice the mother’s life, ignoring the risks. Planned Parenthood and its funding and operations have often been attacked in various locations at the frontlines of this struggle and many have rallied to support the organization as a bulwark against these attacks.
` A recent story in The New Yorker, entitled “The Planned Parenthood Problem” forces a reevaluation of their role in this fight. The reporter, Eyal Press, almost seems to take the issue and Planned Parenthood’s role personal, as the son of an ob-gyn doctor, but he lays out a devastating case that Planned Parenthood may be as much of the problem, as it is part of the solution. Simply put, he argues that with combined resources approaching $2 billion between the national organization and its affiliates the organization has used is strengthen to protect its institution in too many cases, rather than its mission to advance women’s health, especially when it comes to abortion, replacing the opinion of doctors with the conservative voices of corporate lawyers. Rather than meeting the challenge of reduced access and blocked access in some states by going to its extensive donor base and opening clinics along the borders or increasing mail support, they have been timid. Additionally, he cites cases where they have been restrictive and competitive with independent clinics forcing them to absorb the risks instead.
This is not a pretty story. Salted throughout the story, like diamonds in the rough, are occasional praises for PPA. They have led when it comes to political action and their role in some of the initiatives in Kansas and other states was central. Some of their affiliates have remained on the cutting edge, even as others seem more like franchisees following a business model. Vickie Saporta, the once legendary Teamster organizer in numerous election victories in North Carolina and more recently head of the National Abortion Federation, said at different points in the past, they ‘couldn’t have been a better partner.” At the same time, he reports that some of their self-protected messaging, like touting that only 3% of their work involves abortions, endangers the clinics that do that work. An undercurrent theme in the story seems to be his hope that they will once step up and get right on these issues and put their weight and resources where they are needed.
The other theme showcases the heroes in this story, like the Blue Mountain Clinic in Missoula, Montana, and the courageous work of Julie Burkhart, founder of the nonprofit Wellspring Health Access. Burkhart was the veteran of the Wichita, Kansas, clinic whose doctor George Tiller, was murdered by anti-abortion extremists in his church. She reopened his clinic four years later, and then founded the Trust Women Foundation to respond to underserved areas, like southern Illinois and Casper, Wyoming, despite constant threats to her safety and protests and violence at the clinics.
Mackenzie Scott, the ex-wife of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and now billionaire philanthropist, gave Planned Parenthood over $200 million recently. It seems like the rest of us need to send our dimes and dollars to outfits like the Blue Mountain Clinic and almost anything that Julie Burkhart is doing with her nonprofits and the Trust Women Foundation, because they are ones at the frontlines, while Planned Parenthood sometimes has their backs, but too often seems to be standing back.