The Difference Only Planned Parenthood Can Make

***UPDATE — APRIL 14, 2017*** 

As referenced in this New York Times article, Trump Signs Law Taking Aim at Planned Parenthood Funding, President Trump “signed legislation on Thursday [April 13] aimed at cutting off federal funding to Planned Parenthood.”

***END OF UPDATE, NOT THE END OF MY ADVOCACY”***

Here is my original April 2, 2017 post:

I have received services from Planned Parenthood precisely once, but that one visit places me among the “one in five” women in America who have visited Planned Parenthood at least once. As I alluded to in this post when I disclosed my experience of being tested for HIV, I tended in my early 20s to be fanatically cautious. Just like my it was probably scientifically impossible for the activities I was engaging in to expose me to HIV, neither did I technically need the diaphragm I was fitted for at Planned Parenthood.

Fast forward to 2017. At 52, I am a member of a demographic that does technically need services such as testing and treatment for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. Opponents of Planned Parenthood try to paint a picture of an organization which zealously lures women into having abortions (fact: abortions account for less than five percent of Planned Parenthood’s services). These opponents support the rollback of Title X program funding, which in turn allows states to withhold certain funds to women’s health clinics.

We all need to understand the difference Planned Parenthood actually makes.

Planned Parenthood Advocacy

Middle-Aged and Elderly People Need STD Testing and Treatment

According to the CDC, nearly 1 in 4 persons living with HIV/AIDS in the United States is 50 or older.

Our issues around STDs are not limited to HIV risk, however, and they incorporate our emotions as well as our bodies.

Medscape breaks down the psychosocial factors behind our new middle-aged realities:

  • Divorce rates are increasing; in addition, the rate of people who remain unmarried is rising.
  • Midlife “repartnering” is increasing
  • As we stay healthier longer, our potential for engagement in sexual activity increases.

Medscape also lists the possibility, even though the research base is more shallow, that middle-aged women place a higher priority on intimacy over sexual health, leaving them more open to risk. In addition, older people may associate sexual risk-taking with their adolescent years and may ignore facts and dangers that they face.

Planned Parenthood Advocacy

Planned Parenthood Is An Asset for Women’s Health

Although you can learn the basics of the high-quality, affordable health care Planned Parenthood provides to women, men, and young people here, let’s focus for a minute on our middle aged and aging people facing a new sexual behavior reality:

Every year, Planned Parenthood provides more than 4.2 million tests and treatments for sexually transmitted infections, including more than 650,000 HIV tests.

 

Why Planned Parenthood Needs Our Support

Fifty-four percent of Planned Parenthood health centers are in health professional shortage areas, rural or medically underserved areas. Planned Parenthood health centers provide primary and preventive health care to many who otherwise would have nowhere to turn for care.

In 2014, Planned Parenthood health centers saw 2.5 million patients and provided more than 4 million sexually transmitted tests and treatment, more than 360,000 breast exams, more than 270,000 Pap tests, and birth control for 2 million people. Of Planned Parenthood patients in 2014, 15 percent were Black and 23 percent were Latino.

Although current efforts to defund Planned Parenthood cite Community Health Centers (CHCs) as a viable alternative health care provider for contraceptive and sexual health education needs, CHCs, while doing their own critical work for the health of our fellow Americans, are not equipped to replace Planned Parenthood.

Stepping Back and Taking the Long View

Right now, in April 2017, the dialogue around the future of Planned Parenthood is bookended on one side by supporters who strongly believe there is empirical evidence that blocking patients from accessing care at Planned Parenthood comes at too high a cost.

On the other end, opponents believe sentiments like these expressed by Senator Ted Cruz and Dr. Alveda King: “millions of abortions make Planned Parenthood a business that the federal government does not need to be funding with our tax dollars.”

Without Planned Parenthood, women would be less healthy, especially women in medically underserved areas. Planned Parenthood makes a difference.

That difference is what Katharine Hepburn’s republican mother sought when she helped found the Connecticut Birth Control League in 1920.

That difference is what Republican Barry Goldwater’s wife, Peggy, sought when she helped organize Phoenix’s first family planning clinic in 1937.

That difference is ostensibly what Prescott Bush (George H.W.’s father and George W.’s/Jeb’s grandfather) sought when he served as treasurer of a nationwide Planned Parenthood campaign in 1947.

That difference is possibly what then-Congressman George H.W. Bush sought in a 1968 address to Congress in which he advocated for government support of family planning programs, referring to the “tragedy of unwanted children and of parents whose productivity is impaired by children they never desired.”

That difference is what President Nixon and then-Congressman George H.W. bush sought when they supported Title X upon its introduction (and subsequent passage) in 1970.

That difference is what republican Barry Goldwater intended when he supported upholding Roe vs. Wade in 1983.

“That Difference” Changed Lives

It’s one thing to cite surprising moments in history that demonstrate “that difference” made by Planned Parenthood. It’s yet another to know that, for countless individual, real life flesh and blood women, Planned Parenthood impacted their lives for the better:

People like Bethany, who said, “Their clinics enabled me to maintain my reproductive health, and control over my body at a time when I could never have afforded to have a child.”

People like the woman whose breast lump was diagnosed and treated by Planned Parenthood, who shared, “Thank-you, Planned Parenthood, for understanding that nothing is more important than your health, no matter what your socioeconomic status is.”

(The source for the above two quotes is this Huffington Post article.)

People like Cassandra, who wrote for Grounded Parents that Planned Parenthood’s early diagnosis and treatment of her Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) saved her life. She writes:

When I hear politicians talk about defunding Planned Parenthood what I hear is that they don’t understand the services that Planned Parenthood provides for both men and women. What I hear is that they don’t care if both men and women have access to low-cost reproductive health care.

How You Can Make “That Difference” For Yourself and Others

Please tell your legislator why “that difference” is so much broader than many opponents would have them believe. Call them (it’s easy!) and tell them not to defund care at Planned Parenthood Centers. There are several resources here.

Planned Parenthood Advocacy

Here are some more resources:

Birth Control Coverage Should Always Be Guaranteed

There’s a Long History of Republicans Supporting Planned Parenthood—Why Is No One Talking About It?

Why I’m a Christian Who (Still) Supports Planned Parenthood

One Simple Conversation at a Time: #StopHIVTogether

This post is made possible by support from the Let’s Stop HIV Together campaign. All opinions are my own.

In the late 1980s, I explained how to use a condom to hundreds of men I didn’t know who had called the Florida AIDS Hotline as they tried to figure out what to do about the new challenge threatening their health. I had been volunteering and acting as an on-call supervisor at a local crisis hotline, and it was awarded the contract for the AIDS Hotline. I was not an ally yet; I was just doing a job.

Over on the west coast, Mark S. King was also volunteering for an AIDS-related project. When he chose to volunteer for AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA) in 1986, he was doing more than “just a job.” Having been diagnosed as HIV positive in 1985, he needed to do something, and coordinating the APLA speaker’s bureau was his outlet. He thought he would be dead soon and craved immediate gratification.

As it turns out, Mark did not die in 1986 (thankfully). Although he lived in “three year increments” for quite some time after his initial diagnosis (hear more about that in this video with his friend, Lynne), he has now been living with HIV for 31 years and the virus is undetectable in his blood stream due to treatment (although the antibodies which result in an HIV+ test result will always be there).

HIV Prevention

Lynne and Mark

When I had an opportunity to interview Mark recently, I learned that many facts about living with HIV have changed. Specifically, the definition of “prevention” is much broader than it was back in the late 80s. For me in 1988, it meant telling strangers “don’t have sex” or “use a condom.” Mark says the most powerful preventative among his community at the time was: funerals.

In 2016, Prevention and Living with HIV Are Different

In addition to condoms, there are now more options for prevention:

  • PrEP (Pre-exposure Prophylaxis) – people at high risk for HIV can now take a medication that lowers their chances of getting infected. Learn more here.
  • PEP (Post-exposure Prophylaxis) – People who have been potentially exposed to HIV can take antiretroviral medicines (ART) after being potentially exposed to prevent becoming infected. Learn more here.

For people who have tested HIV+ but are on treatment, remaining on treatment in order to keep the virus undetectable is an option. Partners who go this route should know that:

  • · Everyone’s “undetectable” status is only as good as their most recent test.
  • · This choice clearly requires a level of trust between partners.

HIV Prevention

Simple Conversations Can Dispel Misinformation

Ironically, having not batted an eyelash throughout Mark’s book, which chronicles his experiences owning a phone sex hotline and frequent cocaine consumption in the 80s, I found myself hesitating to ask what he meant when he said several times, “I am able to have sex safely with my husband because I am on treatment.” Finally, I just admitted I needed to know more about what exactly he meant.

That’s when he clarified that an HIV+ person on successful treatment can’t transmit HIV. This has been the case for five years.

If I hadn’t asked or he hadn’t been willing to share, I would not have known. The solution to clearing up my confusion was a simple conversation.

“At Risk” Can Mean Anyone

To be perfectly honest, I am not sure if a single person I know and interact with here in Tallahassee is HIV positive.

Even though I don’t currently have someone in my circle who is HIV+, my circle has gotten a heck of a lot bigger since I have gotten involved in (some say addicted to!) social media.

Is there someone among my 2500 Facebook Friends, 9500 Twitter Followers, 3000 Instagram Followers, or 225 Snapchat Friends for whom I can make a difference?
I can’t be sure, but I know that doing nothing is not an option when:

  • Youth aged 13 to 24 accounted for more than 1 in 5 new HIV diagnoses in 2014.
  • Young gay and bisexual males accounted for 8 in 10 HIV diagnoses among youth in 2014.
  • At the end of 2012, 44% of youth ages 18 to 24 years living with HIV did not know they had HIV.
  • My peers are re-entering the dating world as decades-old marriages end and/or discovering that their partners were not monogamous and may have put them at risk.

Will someone identified in one of the above bullet points see something I post and feel less alone, more fortified to proceed with testing, more confident in engaging in a simple conversation?

Even if the people in the populations mentioned above don’t see one of my posts, maybe you will (and I know you’ve read this far, so you are equipped to help!). Stigma is eliminated one chat at a time, and I am asking you to help make a difference.

HIV Prevention

A Year Can Change Everything

I love the fact that this post is going live on June 26. Last year at this time, rainbows proliferated as same sex marriage was legitimized. However, the year has brought with it the flip side of the coin: those who spread hate.

I was so very excited to speak to Mark. We both sort of threw out the pre-written interview questions and just …. talked. The only moment of silence was when our conversation wandered to the tragedy that occurred at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. Mark told me how he, at 55, an award-winning activist in a happy marriage having overcome so many hurdles, was shaken to the core, immediately transported back to feeling like an unsafe sissy at risk of daily beatings. I stumbled for words, failing to respond adequately but empathizing at the same time.

What does that have to do with HIV?

It has to do with HIV because it’s hard enough for some people to come to terms with their own sexuality, much less the strategies they have to employ in order to protect themselves and others from HIV infection. Feelings of being unworthy can be the most difficult barriers to self care. As Mark says, the enemy is a virus, not our humanity.

What Can One Person Do?

If you still don’t understand HIV, ask.

You can get the facts.

If you are ready to help, click here for tons of resources.

You can get tested or help someone who needs to get tested figure out how.

You can get involved and share a story.

You can get materials to share.

And to learn more about Mark, visit his site, follow him on Twitter at @myfabdisease, like his Facebook page by clicking here, or buy his book here.

Lastly

My journey to being an ally was, in retrospect, pre-ordained. I am grateful every single day that I was put in that little room talking to all those strangers about condom usage. I heard their fears. I went myself for an HIV test (never mind the fact that the behaviors I thought put me at risk were, um, hardly risky). For the long version of my ally story, Not About Me, click here.

Yes, Mark is HIV+ but the part that came through to me was our commonalities. We laughed about the fact that we both have “old fashioned” AOL accounts. We shared some fun word play as we exchanged messages. We talked about how each of us goes about life trying to live with joy and humor.

I don’t know about you, but I’m all for more joy and humor, and a lot less stigma.

HIV Prevention