Yep, I’m setting the beauty products aside.
I can’t help it. When the kids are driving me crazy or filling me with joy, I write about that. When I’m freaking out about current events, I’ll write about it.
On Monday, for the first time ever, I participated in the Planned Parenthood Day of Action in downtown Albany.
This turned out to be a completely interesting learning experience for me, so before I tell you how it went, I’m going to list out some things I learned about Planned Parenthood around our area (so, these are activities/programs locally or nearby, but it seemed like a good sample of the kinds of things PP does).
- In some rural areas, there’s such a shortage of medical providers that Planned Parenthood has taken over some or all of the county health services. Folks who want to defund PP talk about using FQHCs, but these health centers are currently overwhelmed with patients who need physical and mental health services. If all PP funding is pulled, this means the counties and/or states are going to have to scramble a bit, which it seems like even the anti-choice legislative staffers understood and worried about.
- One project that had been funded from PP lobbying and organized through PP was services for victims of sexual assault, including training police officers in victim trauma (like not interviewing victims in the ER), purchasing lockable storage for forensic evidence, purchasing clothing that victims could change into at the ER, and “good touch/bad touch” abuse prevention programs in public schools.
- Planned Parenthood provides adoption services for those women who plan to put their baby up for adoption. A staff member who serves as the guide through the adoption process explained that she’s worked with a wide range of women, from a 15-year-old who’d been raped by a stranger to a mother with multiple children with special needs who felt that she couldn’t care for another child properly. One thing that makes this service especially valuable is that the woman receives medical care through the whole process, including grief counseling afterwards, and the cost is covered even if the woman changes her mind and chooses to keep her baby. For some other adoption services, care is only free if the baby is surrendered to the adoptive family, so if the woman changes her mind, she owes such a huge amount of money that it becomes potentially coercive.
- Planned Parenthood is using tele-health services to reach patients in areas in which there’s a shortage of healthcare providers. People can connect with a healthcare provider online. Right now, PP hopes to address current NY State law, which specifies that the patient must be in an office to receive these services. This was implemented because of privacy concerns, for fear that patients might, for example, conduct their health exam from a coffee shop. In many other states, patients can access these services from, say, their home, and PP is advocating for a change in the law to allow this in New York as well.
- Because many clients who visit Planned Parenthood only ever visit a medical professional to obtain birth control, PP has a fairly new program (rolled out in April 2016) in which an RN Healthcare Coach connects with Medicaid patients who, based on a survey, have not “taken charge” of their own health by doing basic things like getting a physical or connecting with a primary care physician. The coach helps these patients find a doctor and locate community resources (like Medicaid cab) that they can use to keep themselves and their family healthy. So far, 6,000 patients have been enrolled in the program. Based on cost studies of preventative care vs. emergency care, the estimated cost savings to tax payers so far is $1.8 million.
- Another new project that’s just getting started locally is training and outreach to serve girls and women on the autism spectrum. In many cases, insurance companies limit doctors to spending about fifteen minutes with a patient for a visit, but people on the autism spectrum often need more time to feel comfortable enough to get undressed and submit to a physical exam. As a result, these individuals have a hard time finding healthcare providers who are willing to admit them as new patients. To fill this gap, PP staff are accepting these patients with special needs and have undergone special training to ensure they’re cared for with sensitivity.
- Even though of course Planned Parenthood is proud to offer safe and legal abortions, the abortion rate is currently at its lowest rate since abortion was made legal, in large part because there are now long-acting reversible contraceptives so that women can prevent pregnancy for as many as 3, 5, or even 10 years without having to think about, say, a daily pill anymore.
- For those interested in advocacy work, Planned Parenthood of New York and Family Planning Advocates of New York State have now merged to form a new organization, Planned Parenthood Empire State Acts, or PPESA, which people are pronouncing pah-PAY-suh, so you can talk about it like you know what you’re talking about. You can click that link and scroll down if you want to join the email list.
Phew! Okay. That’s my list of interesting and new things I didn’t know about Planned Parenthood. Now, for the day itself.
I got an email about the Day of Action, like I usually do, and I usually ignore it, but since I’ve been all riled up lately, I was like, sign me up! Bring it! I’m in!
The first email said that there might be a bus from my local Planned Parenthood, but this didn’t pan out. Which was a bit of a bummer, since going as a group seemed like more fun. A few days before the event, I posted on a Facebook group that I’d happily carpool with someone, and lucky for me, someone I’d never met before offered to drive me.
It was completely lucky, actually. Having a buddy for the day was awesome, and she’d even worked for the state assembly, so she knew her way around. Plus, I made a new friend! If you decide you’d like to do this next year–and if you’re interested, I totally think that you should do this next year–I highly recommend recruiting a friend or two to go along with you. The attendees are really friendly and open, but many of them already know each other from working or volunteering at Planned Parenthood, so I would have felt a bit lonely and awkward without my new friend.
So, what did we do? Ahead of the event, there was tons of information about the agenda, the issues, a map, which legislators we’d be visiting, and more. There was even an online meeting that you could “attend” for more information or to ask questions. On the day of the event, we went early because we expected parking to be pretty tight. The doors opened at 10 am, and we all signed in, showing our IDs to prove who we are, part of their security procedure. There was coffee and food somewhere, but we didn’t go check it out, preferring to find where to go. We were in the convention center this year, which was new because apparently a bunch of other people are riled up, too. Usually the crowd’s only about a third of what it was on Monday. When we registered, we received folders containing all of the information we’d received ahead of time, and then, inside, there were sections to sit in based on where people were from. As a Schenectady person, I was with the Planned Parenthood-Mohawk Hudson. There were pink scarves and rally signs set up with the chairs. We had time to wait, and we used it to make phone calls because my new friend and I were both all riled up about plenty more than just women’s rights.
Once things got started at 11 am, there was a program with a bunch of different speakers, including members of the state assembly, a provider, a patient, a teen advocate, and politicians like NYS Comptroller, Thomas DiNapoli, and NYS Lieutenant Governor, Kathy Hochul. They were all pretty good and moved it along at a fairly rapid pace before getting to the big names, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards and NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo. I am not a fan of Cuomo’s, but I was psyched to hear Richards.
Now, if you can recall Monday, that was just after the Sunday when so many people were gathering at airports protesting the executive orders about immigrants and refugees. So, for me, the early speeches felt almost a bit weird just talking about reproductive rights when there was everything else going on. But Richards and Cuomo both did an excellent job of connecting women’s rights to human/civil rights in general, so the crowd got pretty riled up. By the end, even I had to grudgingly clap at Cuomo a little bit.
The program took about an hour and half, but honestly? The time flew by for me, because it was interesting see all of these people. Then we broke up, and the entire crowd swarmed out and traded their meal tickets for Au Bon Pain box lunches. From there, people could sort of choose what they wanted to do. There were workshops on communication for local organizing and the Black Women’s Health Imperative, little DIY activities like signing a banner or taking selfies, and legislative visits, which my friend and I were both most interested in. There was also all sorts of swag that people could take, like buttons and stickers and pens, so that was excellent.
For the legislative visits, we received a list of different state senators or assembly members along with appointment times. There were Planned Parenthood staff members who were assigned to lead the meetings, but others were welcome to just join the group and come along. Most of the time we all introduced ourselves, but beyond that, you could choose to say something or just sit there in your pink Planned Parenthood scarf nodding emphatically. I visited four different representatives, and between them, it was a good overview of the sorts of meeting you can have. One visit was a complete love-fest, with everyone agreeing about everything and the PP staffers presenting the representative and his staffer with a bright pink tie; one was almost-hostile, with a representative whose staffer had pulled him off the floor so that angry women could talk at him while he smiled blandly and tried to divert them with small-talk; and two meetings with representatives who are not pro-choice but appreciate PP’s other services and even cooperate on advocating and raising funds for goals they share.
There was not any sort of gathering at the end, and, in fact, many folks left earlier than we did because people had traveled from all over the state by bus, and they had much longer to get home. We were lucky to be so close. We ended up scooting out just before 5 pm, when all of the employees would have headed out and put us into rush hour traffic.
It was a really great day. It was interesting and educational and energizing, and I’d totally go with you next year, if you want to give it a try.