Planned Parenthood's 2012 wish list

Published: 01.05.12| Updated: 01.06.12

Dear Members of the 2012 Virginia General Assembly,

Each year, anti-choice legislators and organizations misrepresent the work of our organization in an effort to make access to women's health care services more difficult. So, first and foremost, our greatest wish is that the members of the General Assembly fully understand who we are and what we do at The Virginia League for Planned Parenthood (VLPP).

It is important to know that The Virginia League for Planned Parenthood is a member of the health care safety net in our community, providing health care services to thousands of women each year. In addition to taking care of the routine problems women seek medical care for every day, we provide life-saving cancer screenings, affordable birth control, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, breast health services, pap tests, health education and counseling.

Fewer than 20 percent of the 13,000 visits to our health center are for first-trimester abortion care. Calling our facility an abortion clinic is like calling Walmart a bar because it sells alcohol.

The majority of our patients are uninsured and have an income of less than $16,470 annually. The cost of a woman's annual gynecological exam at a physician's office is about $250. At VLPP, we are able to provide the same exam for less than $100. This enables thousands of women in our community to obtain the type of preventive care they need to remain healthy and parallels the quality of care received by insured women at for-profit, private women's health care practices like The Virginia Women's Center.

It is also important to know that VLPP does not receive any state or federal grant funds to support our work. And we are not asking you for funds to pay for our work. We provide affordable health care services to our community, paid for by our patients and subsidized through the support of generous private foundations and individuals who share our vision of a healthy community.

We are asking that you, our elected representatives, not allow politics or ideology to impact your decisions regarding allowing women and families to make their own decisions about their health care needs. We also ask you to not pass laws that in any way restrict access to reproductive rights. Last year you decided to follow a narrow and politically driven standard by passing legislation that requires any physician's office providing first-trimester abortion care to meet the same administrative, operating and physical requirements as a hospital where highly invasive and complex surgeries are performed. Make no mistake, these new regulations had nothing to do with your concern for women and their safety and everything to do with having government interfere with a woman's right to choose and control her reproductive decisions.

As you consider new laws in the coming year, we ask that you work to promote the health of the whole community. You can do this by protecting the cervical-cancer-vaccine mandate that requires girls entering the sixth grade to get this life-saving vaccination. You can do this by promoting medically accurate sexuality education so that teens and young people in our community have the information and resources they need to make good decisions. And you can do this by not considering House Bill 1, which would grant personhood to every fertilized egg at the moment of conception. This type of legislation rejects a woman's personhood and individuality and has been soundly rejected by other states as extreme. It is also deeply out of step with mainstream Virginia values and our history of respecting the individual.

Finally, we believe that women and families in the commonwealth deserve your unabashed protection from governmental interference in their personal health care decisions. If you feel differently, as many of you probably do, I would suggest that you reflect on the meaning of the yellow Gadsden flag that has been resurrected in the past few years. Beneath the coiled, hissing rattlesnake it boldly declares, "Don't tread on me." Sounds like good words of advice as you take up residence in Jefferson's capitol — don't tread on the reproductive rights and health care decisions of the millions of women and families in this state.

Thomas Shields, Ph.D., board member of The Virginia League for Planned Parenthood.

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