Death Threats, Shootings And Hate: Just Another Day At Planned Parenthood


Republican presidential hopeful Sen. Ted Cruz has called Planned Parenthood a “criminal enterprise” that shouldn't be funded with taxpayer money. Jeb Bush has declared that Planned Parenthood is “not actually doing women's health issues.”

That's pretty strange, because Planned Parenthood's stated mission is “to promote a commonsense approach to women's health and well-being.”

Few healthcare providers have been the target of such vitriol – in public, in private, at debates, on social media, and at clinics around the country. For years, protesters have marched outside of Planned Parenthood facilities across the US, holding anti-abortion signs and antagonizing women as they walk inside for their appointments (appointments that include potentially life-saving Pap smears, mammograms, and STD checks).

For decades, clinics have been set on fire, bombed, and attacked. And last week, a gunman opened fire at a Colorado Springs clinic, killing three people and wounding several others.

The shooting was the latest reminder that some anti-abortion advocates have turned Planned Parenthood into the enemy, making affordable health care for women a dangerous proposition.

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Rosanna Cacace, a health educator at Planned Parenthood Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley in California, says, while she feels her community is supportive of Planned Parenthood, she's aware of the potential threats. Cacace says,

Founded in 1933, Planned Parenthood Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley is one of the oldest affiliates in the country. They've expanded since the early years and say they've seen a 600 percent growth in patient volume since 2002.

2015 has been a rough year for Planned Parenthood...

Over the summer, an anti-abortion group called The Center For Medical Progress (CMP) released secretly recorded videos that portrayed Planned Parenthood as a sinister organization trading in “baby parts.”

Some thought the heavily edited videos were “shocking” evidence of unethical, immoral practices. Planned Parenthood spokesman Eric Ferrero countered that they donate tissue for scientific research “with full, appropriate consent from patients and under the highest ethical and legal standards.”

There's nothing illegal about it, but the topic of abortion can stir up some intense emotions. It can spur a group to release inaccurate videos, or a gunman to start shooting.

Julianne Hines, VP of External Affairs at Planned Parenthood Pasadena and San Gabriel Valley, says she found out about the CMP videos the way the rest of the public did – online, the day they were released. She says of the videos,

Hines wasn't being flippant about the attacks (real or virtual) that Planned Parenthood has experienced over the years. But she does touch on the very real fact that the organization has been under fire for decades, mainly due to the fact that some facilities offer abortion services.

And the attacks seem to be getting more serious. The topic is once again center stage, especially with a presidential election just around the corner.

Here's what Planned Parenthood really provides...

Hines says, 90 percent of their services are preventative, which means birth control, cancer detection and screenings, domestic violence awareness, and sex education. Additionally, about 10 percent of their patients are men.

Hines adds, the Pasadena clinic has been “widely embraced by the community because we've been here so long.” After the CMP videos were released and a few protesters marched outside the Pasadena location, a resident in the neighborhood put up a sign in the window of their house which read, “Planned Parenthood saved my life.” It didn't stop the protesters from marching, though.

The threat to defund Planned Parenthood is very real, especially in battleground states like Texas. Nancy Northup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in an interview with Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner's newsletter Lenny, she's been told by healthcare providers in Texas that they are “seeing an increase in women buying Misoprostol on the black market and self-inducing.”

Planned Parenthood means so much more to its patients…

Sandra*, a Brooklyn-based aesthetician, turned to Planned Parenthood several years ago when she learned that she was pregnant. She was broke. She was an alcoholic. She knew it was dangerous for her to have a child. She says Planned Parenthood staffers counseled her, but didn't pressure her. She says,

Sandra finally got sober years later after more than a decade of drinking and drug abuse, but says she's thankful that she had the option to turn to Planned Parenthood since she wouldn't have been able to afford a safe abortion otherwise. The decision was hers, and she doesn't regret it.

That decision is hard for some to understand. Still, Cacace says,

Samantha*, a mother of two in Southern California who describes herself as “a pro-life believer,” says,

She's not against abortion if the mother's life is threatened or in cases of rape, she says, and she herself turned to Planned Parenthood during college when she wasn't able to afford birth control.

Samantha doesn't believe in defunding Planned Parenthood. She says,

Samantha does have some issues with Planned Parenthood because of her beliefs, but she acknowledges that “the issues surrounding Planned Parenthood are complex.”

Emma*, a Canadian film executive who moved to the US several years ago, recalls taking her roommate to Planned Parenthood for an abortion and having a frightening revelation as she sat in the waiting room, looking at the other women in the room.

Her roommate had just been diagnosed with cancer when she found herself pregnant and just about to start chemotherapy. She says,

Abortions are just one service provided by Planned Parenthood, and it's hard for some people to accept the fact that they're helping and educating so many other women and men when it comes to sexual health.

Cacace says she welcomes an open dialogue with the public – one that's constructive and respectful, not threatening or violent. “We don't believe in working in silos,” she says. “We look to be open partners in communication.”

That seems to be easier said than done. As Samantha said, it's “complex” for some people. And for others it's pretty simple: Leave Planned Parenthood alone, give women a choice, and push for safe and affordable healthcare. And for those like Cruz and Bush who worry about all those tax dollars going to fund Planned Parenthood, Hines says they've received about $4 million through a multi-year capital campaign which helped Planned Parenthood expand services and locations in 2012.

The recent shooting in Colorado is a brutal and sad reminder that debates about Planned Parenthood can result in senseless violence, and that so many people are unable to accept the fact that the clinics are vital for so many women – and men. People who might be forced to undergo dangerous procedures or, as Northrup explained, get drugs like Misoprostol on the black market and risk their lives if they don't have access to safe, affordable healthcare.

Planned Parenthood gets a dose of pop culture…

The debate over Planned Parenthood seeps into pop culture too. A recent episode of Shonda Rhimes' ABC hit "Scandal" involved the defunding of Planned Parenthood and Olivia Pope, the show's main character, ended a pregnancy by choice. After the episode aired, Planned Parenthood issued this statement:

Disney–ABC Domestic Television

Nearly 20 years ago, way before "Scandal," Laura Dern played a drug addict named Ruth Stoops who finds herself at the center of the abortion debate when advocates from both sides of the fence try to convince her to take their side in the movie Citizen Ruth. It's a dark comedy, and it perfectly captures the complexity that Samantha – the self-described “pro-life believer” who stands with Planned Parenthood – talked about.

Everything turns out OK for Ruth in the end (that is, depending on your beliefs), but the question is: Why, two decades later, are we still having the same debates about abortion and a woman's right to choose? A debate that has Planned Parenthood in the crosshairs?

For Cacace and Hines, they're going to work every day and making sure the lights at the Pasadena Planned Parenthood clinic stay on, and that patients have access to safe, affordable healthcare.

As Hines says,

*The names of patients have been changed to protect their privacy.