Douglas Marshall, director of business development for Planned Parenthood of South Florida and the Treasure Coast, has no shortage of distressing accounts of patients he has helped. After the ribbon-cutting ceremony yesterday at the newly opened clinic in Pembroke Pines, he recounted a story about a 15-year-old girl who came in for a pregnancy test. The test came back positive, and Marshall gave her a referral for another doctor.
"Two months later, she comes back pregnant again," Marshall said. "She said her mother had found the birth control the doctor had given her and took it away."
Comment cards tell the anonymous stories from other patients of the South Florida clinics.
One card reads, "I'm 32 years old and have been going to Planned Parenthood for a long time. When I was younger, 19, I had a baby boy. Planned Parenthood... showed me the importance of having protected sex... I learned more through Planned Parenthood at a young age. I still only have one child, and I'm currently going to school."
Florida receives the highest amount of abstinence-only money -- $13 million -- after Texas ($18 million), despite studies that have shown that students in abstinence education programs "were no more likely to abstain from sex." In addition, Title V requires that the state spend $3 on abstinence-only education for every four federal dollars it receives from the program. That comes out to a $3.25 million investment for a product that may not work. Currently, Florida ranks sixth in unintended teen pregnancy and second in HIV and AIDS cases. Texas rates third in teen birth rates.
"We have one of the largest education departments in the country," said Triste Brooks, who serves as chief operating officer for the South Florida affiliate's ten clinics and oversees education and medical services. In an attempt to combat what they view as risky, ineffective policy, she says, "we're nonjudgmental; we give people unbiased information [which includes abstinence]... We identify people in the community and go out and do workshops."
Because of the economic downturn and skyrocketing insurance costs, Planned Parenthood South Florida has seen a surge in patients needing care; for the majority of patients, according to Judith Selzer, Planned Parenthood is their primary provider.
One comment card left by "MW WPB" reads, "I am one of many whom have no insurance. Before I found Planned Parenthood I didn't go to my annual yearly check up because I couldn't afford it. The doctors of Planned Parenthood have discovered that I have cancer cells, now at 24-years-old I can get rid of the problem instead of having major problems down the road." '
Says Brooks: "We've been seeing a lot of people we don't normally see."
Despite threats to funding, like the Pence amendment that tried to eliminate funding for the organization and that was just defeated in the House, Planned Parenthood has tried to keep up with increased need by opening clinics in Oakland Park as well as in Pembroke Pines.
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"Only 0.5 percent of our entire budget is provided by federal funds," says Judith Selzer, Vice President of Public Policy and Communications.
The rest of the budget for the ten clinics serving the area from Indian River south to the Keys comes from a range of sources including Children's Services Counsel, various foundations, and individual donors, among others. The money goes to gynecological exams, cervical cancer detection, birth control access, HIV and sexually transmitted infection testing, sexual health education, and other reproductive services. However, no federal funds go to abortion services, despite that widely propagated myth. The Hyde amendment outlawed the use of public funds for abortion in 1976.
Another common misconception is that Planned Parenthood is simply an abortion clinic. Services like "Pills Now Pay Later," which Brooks describes as "like Netflix," and providing free condoms place them at the forefront of trying to bring down the number of unintended pregnancies.
"If individuals who opposed abortion were really serious about reducing the need for abortion, they would partner with organizations like Planned Parenthood to pass legislation like the Prevention First Act and the Healthy Teens Act," says Selzer. That they do not, she adds, "shows this is not about really increasing access to the kind of resources that would prevent abortion in the first place. They just want to protest, and they don't want to do anything pro-active."