Wednesday, April 3, 2013
As it celebrates its 50th anniversary in San Diego, Planned Parenthood is trying to foster a new generation of advocates.
SAN DIEGO San Diego’s Planned Parenthood chapter is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
The organization started in 1963 with an information booth in Balboa Park. Today, San Diego’s Planned Parenthood affiliate is the second largest in the nation.
Planned Parenthood clinics like to keep a low profile.
One in a Southeast San Diego strip mall is unremarkable from the outside.
But inside, it provides state-of-the-art care to 100 patients a day.
“So this is one of our exam rooms," said clinic manager Consuelo Hernandez as she showed a visitor one of five such rooms in the center. "Primarily we do a lot of contraceptive visits, and we do a lot of screening and treatment for STDs.”
Hernandez said the clinic has its own lab, too.
"So here we do pregnancy testing. We also do our in-house rapid HIV test, which is done really simple," she said. "It’s just a finger poke and the patient has the results in 15 minutes.
Planned Parenthood has 19 health centers in San Diego and Riverside Counties.
The non-profit had a budget of $56 million dollars in 2011 and treated more than 160,000 patients.
The vast majority of Planned Parenthood clients are women under the age of 29. But long-time medical director Kate Sheehan said the clinics also screen men for sexually transmitted diseases.
"We’re the largest STD provider of testing in all of San Diego County, so we’re proud of that service that we’re able to provide to our clients," Dr. Sheehan said. "And we have a very small percentage, only five percent, which is our abortion services."
But it’s the fact that Planned Parenthood provides abortions at all that make it such a target nationwide.
Recently, the organization’s been under attack in many red states, where lawmakers have been trying to cut off state funding.
Dr. Sheehan said people who believe abortions should be banned or restricted should reconsider.
"It’s a very needed service," she said. "Women die when you take away access to abortion. I was a medical student before 1973 and I saw wards of young women dying from lack of access to abortions. So, that’s part of my compassionate concern for protecting those rights."
Like Dr. Sheehan herself, Planned Parenthood is much more than a healthcare provider. It’s also a major advocate for women’s health services and reproductive rights.
California is generally receptive to its mission. After all, it’s a pro-choice state.
Even so, San Diego affiliate President Darrah DiGiorgio Johnson says there’s a vocal minority that constantly assails her organization.
She thinks it’s because the issues that Planned Parenthood talk about are tough for some people to handle.
"Well, I think it’s radioactive because the topic of sex and sexuality, women, women’s reproductive health, women owning their sexual health, is radioactive in general," DiGiogio Johnson said. "It’s a very intimidating topic for both men and women to feel like women are powerful and own their own sexuality and can express themselves and have choices."
DiGiorgio Johnson thinks it’s high time for a change.
“A culture change around sex and sexuality in this country would probably be a good thing," she said. "If we were to shift to a little bit more open-mindedness and a conversation with our young people as opposed to help them stay away from something that is ultimately inevitable”
That’s the message that Planned Parenthood volunteers try to spread in the community.
At a street fair on San Diego’s Rolando Avenue, volunteer Amy Dunford talked to people about the services at Planned Parenthood clinics.
Dunford was raised as a Mormon. Her parents warned her not to have sex before she was married.
"If you did, it was basically the worst thing you could do if you weren’t married," Dunford said. "So it was a very, like, a evil kind of thing that we didn’t really talk about."
Dunford said when she was in college, she realized that educating people about sex and how to prevent unwanted pregnancies makes sense. That’s when she started volunteering at Planned Parenthood.
The organization wants to foster the next generation of advocates. That’s why it sponsors a Teen Capitol Day each year.
The organization educates young volunteers about reproductive health bills pending in Sacramento. Then it sends teens to the capitol to lobby their lawmakers.
Katie O’Nell, 16, will take her second trip this spring.
O’Nell said Planned Parenthood offers teens and adults access to reproductive healthcare. She can’t figure out why some people are uncomfortable with that.
"I see no point in being so uptight about sex," O'Nell said. "Everyone does it, except for, like, monks or nuns or something. So, it’s good to be healthy."