In 1995, I was cruising toward the zenith of my zealotry, which crested in 1998. I was 24-years-old and working for a major banking institution (you’d know it–they advertise everywhere.) This bank, we’ll call Pursue, was a partner with the United Way, and every year there was an awesome party to kick off the employee giving campaigns.
I had worked for Pursue for two years at that point, and had enjoyed those parties massively. The swag was always a nice perk, and at my just-above-minimum-wage salary, any perk was welcome. One year we got lottery ticket scratch offs, and I won $100. Do you know what $100 means to someone who makes $7.15 an hour?!
Somewhere between 1995 and 1996, Focus on the Family started to wage a real campaign against the United Way, citing that they gave money to Planned Parenthood, and Planned Parenthood performed abortions. I had eschewed the secular in favor of strictly religious radio programming, so while I was at work, I listened to a lot of Focus on the Family* or Bob Larson (the Rush Limbaugh of Christian radio.) Don’t judge me. Okay, judge me, but do it out of love.
FotF’s programming convinced me that if I gave to the United Way, I was killing babies. I may as well have been performing partial-birth abortions with my own teeth if a cent of my UW contribution went to Planned Parenthood. And, much as I had personally boycotted Burger King for years (because they bought their fish from Iceland, and Iceland was harpooning whales or something–I forget. man, did I miss their chicken sandwiches!), I took a stand against the United Way.
This meant refusing to attend the awesome party Pursue was holding because I felt it was hypocritcal to refuse to support UW and still benefit from their party. No one seemed to care much that I didn’t want to support them financially (though it was all but a corporate mandate that employees give–and I disagree with corporately mandated giving), but they freaked out that I wasn’t going to go to the party. In fact, members of management tried to force me to go to the party.
I did not back down. I stood my ground against HR’s directive that I was not allowed to say why I wouldn’t participate. It got ugly, then it got better. I was resolute. I did not go to the United Way parties for three years, and I missed out on some unbelievable swag and more scratch offs. Feh.
I rarely stopped to think about the good the United Way does. I rarely stopped to think about how they fulfill their vision: Everyone deserves opportunities to have a good life: a quality education that leads to a stable job, enough income to support a family through retirement, and good health. I focused on a fraction of a fraction, and I missed out on the opportunity to share my pittance with others who didn’t even have that. I focused on the possibility of abortions not yet provided and ignored living, starving children. Just like Jesus! Ugh. Jesus was all, “Girl, don’t look at me.”
It would be years before I would even allow myself to consider the good work that Planned Parenthood does. Yes, they do provide abortions. They also provide many other services to women and girls, who otherwise could not afford medical care.
From Wikipedia, some numbers:
[Planned Parenthood] serve[s] over five million clients a year, 26% of which are teenagers under the age of 19. According to Planned Parenthood, 75% of their clients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level.
Services provided at locations include contraceptives (birth control); emergency contraception; screening for breast, cervical and testicular cancers; pregnancy testing and pregnancy options counseling; testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases; comprehensive sexuality education, menopause treatments; vasectomies, tubal ligations, and abortion.
In 2009, Planned Parenthood provided 4,009,549 contraceptive services (35% of total), 3,955,926 sexually transmitted disease services (35% of total), 1,830,811 cancer related services (16% of total), 1,178,369 pregnancy/prenatal/midlife services (10% of total), 332,278 abortion services (3% of total), and 76,977 other services (1% of total), for a total of 11,383,900 services. The organization also said its doctors and nurses annually conduct 1 million screenings for cervical cancer and 830,000 breast exams.
So what we’re looking at is 26% of services for cancer related issues, pregnancy, prenatal, or midlife services and care. 70% of services are related to the prevention of unwanted pregnancy, and the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted disease. 96% of what Planned Parenthood does is directly related to women’s health, unborn baby health (because sexually transmitted diseases affect those guys, too!), and the avoidance of abortion through birth control.
The Susan G. Komen Foundation has the market cornered on cancer donation. And, also from Wikipedia, “have been caught up in the controversy over “pinkwashing“—the use of breast cancer and the pink ribbon by corporate marketers, especially to promote products that might be unhealthful—in return for a donation to the cause. Komen benefits greatly from these corporate partnerships, receiving over $55 million a year from them. However, critics say many of these promotions are deceptive to consumers and benefit the companies more than the charity.”
I’ve never been a big Komen fan, but have sponsored friends and family who have walked in the Race for the Cure. No matter how commercial I find their message, I’m all for anything that is working to keep my family and friends alive.
Komen has done some wonderful things, including supporting Planned Parenthood, making it possible for them to provide 170,000 clinical breast exams, and 6,400 mammogram referrals in the past five years. That’s somewhere around 200,000 women the Komen foundation touched in a real way.
Look. I told you this story so that you understand that I have been on both sides of this coin. I have been so zealously opposed to abortion (and choice, let’s be honest) that I would not support an organization whose work includes feeding and clothing, educating and advocating for the children who WERE NOT aborted. I was so blinded by an nth of a percent out of religious righteousness that I ignored the screaming need of men, women and children who are already with us, and already in great distress.
I am 100% pro-choice. It is my heart’s desire that abortion never be a wanted option, but so long as there are humans in the world, there will be imperfections (ill-health, rape, careless teenagers) and choice is valid. We should work toward a world where every child is wanted, where women do not have to worry about considerations in the event of pregnancy due to rape or incest, where women’s health has improved to the point that we can save both mothers and children.
We help women, children, and the unborn when we support programs that offer preventative treatment and care, that offer contraception and education, and that provide healthcare to those who would not otherwise have access to it. We help women, children, and the unborn when we support organizations like Planned Parenthood. Which is why I have taken the amount of money I have spent previously sponsoring walkers in the 3-Day Race for the Cure and pledged it to Planned Parenthood this year.
*Focus has done a lot of good things. I don’t want you to think I’m throwing any babies out with my bathwater. I appreciate James Dobson on a personal level for giving my mother some parenting instruction she had lacked, and for giving me some tools to make it through my teen years.