Sunday, February 20, 2011

Planned Parenthood - A Test of the Soul

I've had to return to this post to revise it.  It dawned on me that I may have put people in danger by mentioning places and names.  So, this revision removes specifics and references about the location and names. I really need to be more careful.  I really need an editor, a second set of eyes and brain, to think about these things.  Maybe I should stop blogging entirely.  This is too stressful.  I've also added new information that I've learned since I first published this article.

The Planned Parenthood Health Center that I have personal experience with is located just around the corner, less than a five minute walk, from a Fresh Start center that is located in an Episcopal Church.  Fresh Start attempts to help the homeless and those who are on the brink of becoming homeless.  It has its hands full.  Donations are down and usually limited to donations received between Thanksgiving and Christmas each year when I participate.  Federal assistance disappeared when President Bush channeled all federal money that Fresh Start used to get to his Faith-Based Initiative program in 2001, run in a White House office.  Fresh Start was not one of the "Faiths" favored by the Bush Administration.  That may have changed under President Obama.  I hope so.  The number of homeless is going up.  All of its staff are volunteers, mostly parishioners of the church.  Fresh Start is one of my favorite charities.  It is on the front line of the war against homelessness.  I can't give much, though.

One of the first things Fresh Start does for homeless women is to send them to the Planned Parenthood Health Center for a physical exam, including AIDS screening, mammograms, pap smears, pregnancy tests, contraceptives, sex education, tuberculosis screening, treatment for lice, and on and on, anything the woman needs that can be provided by the clinic.  Some of the women have been raped while living on the street and they are always terrified of being pregnant from the rape.  If they are pregnant, abortion is always a subject the woman brings up.  In desperation for enough money to live on, some of them have become prostitutes, and under the control of a pimp, usually an abusive pimp.  Some are women who have run away from their circumstance, a pimp, an abusive husband and others are runaways from abusive parents.  Others are victims of unemployment or other social upheavals.  All of them are looking for a way out of their circumstances.  Nearly all call themselves Christians and believe in God and constantly pray for a way out; a miracle.  A few, but not many are Muslim, Buddhist, Hindus or Jews and not connected to institutions of those faiths.  Apparently lost women of those faiths are taken care of by their own communities if they still have those connections.  These are the lepers of our society.

The greater majority are at the clinic for physical exams or a specific ailment or follow up treatment.  That accounts for 98% of the visits to the clinic.  Two percent are there for abortion referral and counseling.

Next to the health clinic is a small coffee shop catering mainly to the patients and staff of the health center. You can't help but notice the patients sitting in the clinic's waiting room if you go to the coffee shop. Early one morning a year or so ago while I was attempting to visit Fresh Start, I stopped in the coffee shop for a cup of coffee.  On that day, I saw that the waiting room was full with some patients standing; all seats were taken.  I took the last table available in the coffee shop; it was inconveniently jambed in the corner and had three chairs tightly spaced on two sides of the table.  A young girl of about twenty sat down at my table and a minute later a middle-aged woman wearing a lab coat of sorts with a medical logo, the wings, staff and swirling snakes, sat in the last seat at our table.  We made room for her.  The woman was a volunteer at the clinic on her off-days from her regular job.  She was taking a break. She started a conversation with the young girl by asking her if she had gotten her room yet.  Apparently nearby, among the several apartment buildings, was a place where she could get a room.  "Not yet," the girl said.  The woman said that she had better hurry, there were five more women in the clinic waiting room who also needed a room and rooms were always short in supply.  The girl nodded.  She would go there next, but didn't know what she was going to do after that, she said.  She had to return to the clinic that afternoon for her test results.  She hoped that she wasn't pregnant.

I was curious and I asked, "What is this place?"  But, before answering my question, she wanted to know who I was, so I explained that I was in the area to check out Fresh Start since I had given them money.  After more explanation, she finally said that I didn't appear to be a "nut."  She said the clinic receives regular threats and wanted to make sure I wasn't one of "those."  Over our conversation, she explained much of what I've written above.  She went on to say that most of the clinic's support comes from the Episcopal Church and a few other community churches.  Other churches, she said, opposed the clinic, wanting to shut it down and was the source of many of the threats the clinic received.  Personal threats directed at staff members, she said, were passed to the police and investigated but hardly ever resolved.

She went on to say that many women who use the clinic had jobs, but didn't make enough to buy insurance or pay for direct medical care; low-income women.  They typically paid half of their income for one-room studio apartments and generally had very little left for even basic needs, even hygiene and contraceptives which they got from the clinic.  When the subject got around to abortions, she asked me, "Do you see any choice?" These women have no choice in the matter, she said.  They are terrified of getting pregnant, they have no way of preventing it unless they come to us and they have nobody who will support them during pregnancy let alone a child.  "It's heartbreaking," she said.  Her chin quivered and her eyes watered.  "And, we have no way to keep the woman for her to carry the child to birth for adoption," although some do, somehow, and immediately give up the child to adoption as soon as they are born.  These children are not the most desired children in the adoption market, she said.  Many are not adopted.  Apparently they are passed into the foster parent system where they linger until, at eighteen years of age, they are usually put out on the streets.  "Thank God for you," the young girl said to the woman as she got up and left.

"We follow U.S. and California abortion law and the best medical standards of care," she said, but law changes often and we are constantly inspected.  She had no problem with inspections - they were always thorough inspections and they always passed.  At one time the law required that young women under eighteen get parental consent before getting an abortion, but for these girls, she asked, "What parent? These girls usually have no parent," or one that can be located or one that cares.  They've been abandoned in most cases.  That parental permission law was eventually overturned in court as unconstitutional, as a violation of the girl's civil liberties and privacy.  The girls usually have no idea what they want, who to turn to or where to go.  They are just frightened.  "We leave the decision up to them," which appears to be a hopeless choice since they haven't a clue.  All are conflicted and despairing.  If they want to give birth, we'll try to find a home for them through Fresh Start and the churches.  In most cases, no home is found and they return for an abortion, the last resort for them.  For others, she said, giving birth is too dangerous to the woman.  "We get all of the lost and hopeless," she said.  We try to teach them prevention and sex education, she said, but some return pregnant again in spite of their efforts.  Her break was soon over; she returned to work.

Last week Representative Mike Pence (R-IN) led an assault on Planned Parenthood to stop funding for the program, primarily as a way to stop abortions.  The right-wing media, led by Marjorie Dannenfelser, led the media attack with fake videos with the most heinous deceptions and lies about Planned Parenthood.  They accused it of gross negligence, sex trafficking, gruesome abortion procedures and a number of gut-turning descriptions.  But, it was all lies and deception.  Had there been any truth to any of the allegations heard on the floor of the House of Representatives, the Federal Bureau of Investigation should have been called for a criminal investigation, but that wasn't done.  I was very proud of California Representative Jackie Speier for standing up, facing them down with, "But for you to say, on this floor, that somehow abortion is wanted, or cavalier, or done without thought is preposterous."  Actually, for me, it wasn't strong enough.  I was outraged at the lies and false witness against Planned Parenthood.  When I left that coffee shop, I was heartbroken - and speechless.  I couldn't even say, "I'm sorry," or "thank you" to the woman, a courageous volunteer.  So, hearing the outrageous lies told on the floor of Congress got my dander up.

The attack on Planned Parenthood picked the worst cases of medical negligence to demonstrate and prove its cause, such as this one about Doctor Kermit Gosnell, Abortion Doctor Kermit Gosnell Charged With 8 Counts of Murder, a Pennsylvania physician who gives abortions in an impoverished area in Philadelphia.  In fact, the procedure described in the article is nearly identical to what was said in the House of Representatives, as cause for approval of the amendment to de-fund Planned Parenthood.  The implication, of course, is that all abortions are done in the manner described in the article.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Most state laws would not allow Doctor Gosnell to practice medicine at all, nor would they allow abortions in such late term of the pregnancy as described.  What is really described is a complete breakdown by neglect of standards of care, Pennsylvania law and regulators.  Doctor Gosnell should go to jail on all charges described in the article, if, in fact, the article is true.  He is a monster, not a physician.  It also appears that state regulators should go to jail too, for negligence of their own duty.

But, that's the question: Is the article true?  Or is it an evil distortion of the truth to sway public opinion?  If it is intentionally false, then the person who wrote it, and his editor, should go to jail for fraudulently misrepresenting the facts.  One would assume that some kind of ethical and fact finding editorial standard procedure confirmed the allegations before it was printed.  But, that's not always true now days.  We don't know the truth from the article.

There is also a question about the regulators who should have been inspecting the clinic.  To what extent were those state offices funded?  Or, was it just one more regulating office that Republicans had de-funded or reduced staff.  Republicans are notorious for eliminating regulations and the people who carry out the inspections or regulation.  Republicans don't care for regulating businesses.

If we believe that Doctor Gosnell's practice is common practice, then we have to believe that all medical and surgical procedures are just as barbaric, that all doctors are sadists and nurses are negligent accomplices.  I can't believe that.  I have brothers and sisters who practice medicine in some form or another.  I have friends who do it.  I don't see a single one of them who would accept or do such barbaric methods as described in the article.  While working at the Naval Medical Center, Oakland, I saw constant inspections, both internal and from outside authorities, including the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO).  That organization closes hospitals that do not meet high minimum standards of care, and the hospital will be embroiled in a mountain of paperwork and improvements until it gets its accreditation back, or it will go bankrupt or close forever.  The JCAHO is not something taken lightly.  If the JCAHO found such a clinic in a hospital, it would close the doors immediately without notifying management and without any possible management response or excuse.

I also have to believe that with all of the opportunity for Mike Pence, Marjorie Dennenfelser and their supporters such as Tony Perkins, CEO of the Family Research Center, and the National Right to Life organization, and all of those others who have found it profitable to proselytize their propaganda to the Christian Right, to visit Planned Parenthood clinics, the churches that support it and the other organizations who coordinate services to the hopeless and lost poor to find the factual and honest truth about Planned Parenthood, that those attacking Planned Parenthood actually know the truth and are blatantly lying.  They have found it more profitable to cater to the Christian Right, to sell their goods to that market and to glean donations from that quarter, that they would go out of business if they told the truth.  But, the fact is that Pence, Dennedfelser, and others like them are responsible for much of the distortion of the truth, for not only about Planned Parenthood but many other things that I've researched, and it can be for no other reason than their own profit and personal fame.  It is time that politicians and media stop lying and distorting the truth.  They need to be held accountable for doing it.

The situation for the poorest women in the United States is nearly hopeless as it is, because they bear a burden that men have no clue about.  They are easily victimized and then accused of being wanton, they are easily oppressed and abused by superior strength and are not believed, and they carry the child, unplanned or planned, whether they want to or not.  I haven't heard many who have homes and are loved complaining, but one wonders why not.  Closing Planned Parenthood clinics makes it a thousand times worse.  I have to believe there is hope for these people.  I don't see anything else for them.  Society failed long before these women became pregnant and long before they paid a Planned Parenthood clinic a visit.  If the Christian Right wins in this battle, I see no hope at all.  I can't believe that God is against these women and that His heart isn't broken by their pain.  I do believe that God has a bone to pick with the Christian Right, maybe to its ultimate disgrace.  I can hardly wait.

I'm pro-choice because I refuse to condemn these women.  In fact, for the women above, I see no choice.  If I could give them one, I would.  If I could take on their fear, anguish and desperation, I would.  And for other women who are in anguish and are desperate, that I can't know and can only imagine, there can't be many choices either.


1 comment:

David Beloat said...

A well written argument, and I understand your passion. I still can't understand "pro choice" though. I could, if I didn't believe abortion is murder in God's eyes. I don't think He would ever condone the choice to murder, since He expressly commanded it not be done. It is that simple, and that complicated. Society has failed these women, just as we have failed in many other ways, but we simply cannot foster or condone immoral solutions to moral problems, in spite of the abuse of these victims.