Empire Editorial: Planned Parenthood not just a political statement

Posted: Sunday, January 29, 2006

A little over a year ago the family-planning agency Planned Parenthood confirmed that it was raising money and planning to open a clinic that provides abortions in Juneau. Last week the group announced that it has met its goals and will open a clinic this fall.

If it happens it will be a momentous occasion for the city - anti-abortion advocates are proud to point out the capital hasn't had an abortion clinic in two decades - and neither side of the abortion debate has overlooked that. After last year's announcement, impassioned letters to the editor started flowing in. Already that flow has restarted with last week's news.

What is likely to be lost in the outcry is that Planned Parenthood is much more than the abortion factory that critics brand it.

To be sure, Planned Parenthood wears its politics on its sleeve, and in so doing invites controversy. A current look at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America's Web site shows activists holding, "Oppose Alito, Save Roe" placards, in reference to fears that the latest Supreme Court nominee will overturn the right to abortion. But that is just the advocacy face of the organization. A further look at the site finds reproductive health information and services offered. Contraception, emergency contraception, sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment, sex education: All of these are healthy additions to any community, and some work to reduce the incidence of abortion.

Planned Parenthood's mission statement begins: "Planned Parenthood believes in the fundamental right of each individual, throughout the world, to manage his or her fertility, regardless of the individual's income, marital status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, national origin, or residence." It goes on to say that reproductive self-determination enhances "quality of life, strong family relationships, and population stability."

Few would argue with these ideals, though some surely find them cynical because of their underlying support for abortion. But the protesters who will come out if and when the agency opens a clinic in Juneau should consider the part of the mission statement that discusses individual rights regardless of income or background. Alaska and Juneau can be harsh reminders of economic disparities. Because women who want or need abortions must fly from Juneau and other Southeast Alaska communities at least as far as Anchorage or Seattle, abortion is effectively reserved for those who can afford a costly trip. It may be an effective barrier for those who would oppose all abortions, but it certainly is not fair.

Contraception, sex, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion are all complex issues, and often are not easy to discuss or decide upon. Rather than turning the latest local development into a political battleground, Juneau would do well recognize it as just one more resource for women and families.

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