Planned Parenthood

History & Successes

Planned Parenthood is rooted in the courage and tenacity of American women and men willing to fight for women's health, rights, and equality. Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood, is one of the movement's great heroes. Sanger's early efforts remain the hallmark of Planned Parenthood's mission:

  • providing contraception and other health services to women and men
  • funding research on birth control and educating specialists and the public about the results
  • advancing access to family planning in the United States and around the world

Women's progress in recent decades — in education, in the workplace, in political and economic power — can be directly linked to Sanger's crusade and women's ability to control their own fertility.

In 1966, Planned Parenthood Federation of America inaugurated the PPFA Margaret Sanger Award to honor the woman who founded America's family planning movement. In its first year, the award was bestowed upon four men, including the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr.


      Early Triumphs
      Growing Access for All
      Roe v. Wade: A Victory for Women
      Targeting Teens
      The Gag Rule: Targeting Family Planning Overseas
      The Campaign of Intimidation and Terror
      Censoring Clinics, Slowing Research
      Limiting Women's Options
      Congress: Abstinence and Inequity
      The Court: Supporting Women
      Breaking Treaties, Freezing Family Planning Funds
      Censoring Information, Restricting Access
      Mobilizing Against an Abortion Ban



Planned Parenthood dates its beginnings to 1916 when Sanger, her sister, and a friend open America's first birth control clinic in Brooklyn, New York. In Sanger's America, women cannot vote, sign contracts, have bank accounts, or divorce abusive husbands. They cannot control the number of children they have or obtain information about birth control, because in the 1870s a series of draconian measures, called the Comstock laws, made contraception illegal and declared information about family planning and contraception "obscene."

Sanger knows the tragic toll of such ignorance. Her mother had 18 pregnancies, bore 11 children, and died in 1899 at the age of 40. Working as a nurse with immigrant families on New York's Lower East Side, Sanger witnesses the sickness, misery, and death that result from unwanted pregnancy and illegal abortion. The clinic she opens provides contraceptive advice to poor, immigrant women, some of whom line up hours before the doors open. Police raid the clinic and all three women are convicted of disseminating birth control information.

Undaunted, Sanger founds The Birth Control Review, the first scientific journal devoted to contraception. She also appeals her conviction, which leads to a new, liberalized interpretation of New York's anti-contraception statute. In 1923 Sanger opens the Birth Control Clinical Research Bureau in Manhattan to provide contraceptive devices to women and collect accurate statistics to prove their safety and long-term effectiveness.

That same year, Sanger incorporates the American Birth Control League, an ambitious new organization that embraces the global issues of world population growth, disarmament, and world famine. The two organizations subsequently merge, and later become Planned Parenthood® Federation of America, Inc. (PPFA®).


Early Triumphs

In 1936 Sanger and other birth control proponents win their first major judicial victory. Sanger is arrested after leaking information to postal authorities that she illegally ordered birth control products through the mail. Her case triggers a review of the issue by the courts. Judge Augustus Hand, writing for the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, orders a sweeping liberalization of federal Comstock laws, ruling that contemporary data on the damages of unplanned pregnancy and the benefits of contraception mean that contraceptive devices and birth control could no longer be classified as obscene. Because Judge Hand's decision applies only to New York, Connecticut, and Vermont, it is almost 30 years before married couples throughout the country have the right to obtain contraceptives from licensed physicians.

Two other early victories for women's health come one year later:

  • The American Medical Association officially recognizes birth control as an integral part of medical practice and education.
  • North Carolina becomes the first state to recognize birth control as a public health measure and to provide contraceptive services to indigent mothers through its public health program.



By the 1960s, Planned Parenthood is a respected and powerful voice in the movement for women's rights, fighting successfully for increased access to birth control, pushing for the creation and funding of domestic and international family planning programs, and playing a crucial role in the development of the pill and IUD (intrauterine device).

In 1948, Planned Parenthood had awarded a small grant to Gregory Pincus, a research biologist who undertook a series of tests leading to the development of the birth control pill. On May 9, 1960, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the sale of oral pills for contraception. The pill is an instant hit and has enormous consequences in freeing women to control their lives. Finally women have an easy and reliable means to prevent unwanted pregnancies and plan their families.

Within five years, one out of every four married women in America under the age of 45 has used the pill.

In 1962, Alan Guttmacher, M.D., begins his 12-year tenure as Planned Parenthood president. He is a strong advocate for a woman's right to safe and legal abortion at a time when Americans are increasingly angered by the dire consequences of abortion restrictions.

  • From 1956 to 1962, hundreds of women in the U.S. and Europe who took the drug thalidomide while pregnant give birth to children missing arms and legs. Sherri Finkbine, an American mother of four who used thalidomide, is refused an abortion. More than 60 percent of Americans disapprove of the refusal. Mrs. Finkbine flees to Sweden for a safe, legal abortion. (The fetus is gravely deformed.) Her case and others involving women who have taken thalidomide convince many Americans that anti-abortion laws need reform.
  • In 1966, an epidemic of rubella, which, like thalidomide, causes a high incidence of fetal deformity, heightens public anger against abortion bans.

These two tragedies, combined with women's growing demands for the right to control their own fertility, bolster public support for legal and safe abortion.

In 1961, Estelle Griswold, president of Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, opens a birth control clinic to dispense contraceptives and to put the state's ban on birth control to the test. Her act of civil disobedience is rewarded: In 1965, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Griswold v. Connecticut, removes one of the last serious barriers to family planning when it strikes down state laws prohibiting the use of contraceptives by married couples.

Ten states immediately liberalize family planning legislation and begin to provide family planning services. In 1963, Colorado liberalizes its abortion law, followed by 13 other states in the next three years.


Growing Access for All

From its inception, Planned Parenthood worked for access to family planning for all women — rich, middle class, and poor. In 1966 these efforts bear fruit at the national level. As a central element of the War on Poverty, President Lyndon Johnson singles out a lack of family planning as one of four critical health problems facing the nation:

  • The U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare creates a program to provide contraceptive services for low-income, married women.
  • Amendments to the Social Security Act require that at least six percent of the annual appropriations for maternal and child health be earmarked for family planning and that family planning services be provided to public assistance recipients who request them.
  • The U.S. Agency for International Development begins providing contraceptives as an integral part of its overseas development programs.



Both Democratic and Republican leaders in Washington support expanding family planning services and research in the U.S. and internationally. President Richard Nixon declares birth control a national priority and seeks "adequate family planning services [for] … all those who want them but cannot afford them."

In 1970, Congress passes and President Nixon signs into law Title X of the Public Health Service Act, which makes contraceptives available regardless of income and provides funding for educational programs and research in contraceptive development. Later, Congress broadens Title X's mandate to provide community-based sex education programs and preventive services to unmarried teenagers at risk of pregnancy.

National polls reveal that more than half of all Americans support the legalization of abortion, and 1970 marks two major advances toward that goal:

  • Hawaii becomes the first state to repeal laws criminalizing abortion.
  • Planned Parenthood of Syracuse, New York, becomes the first Planned Parenthood affiliate to offer abortion services when New York State enacts the most progressive abortion law in the nation, permitting abortion through the 24th week of pregnancy if performed by a licensed physician.

In 1971 Planned Parenthood establishes an international program, largely funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Within 15 years Planned Parenthood's international division is the largest U.S. nongovernmental provider of family planning services, reaching millions of women and men in developing countries.


Roe v. Wade: A Victory for Women

On January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court hands down its landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, recognizing the constitutional right to privacy and women's right to choose abortion.

Planned Parenthood's efforts to protect state encroachments against access and client confidentiality, especially for minors, are also largely successful:

  • In 1976, in a case brought by Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri, the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down state requirements for parental and spousal consent before women obtain an abortion.
  • In subsequent cases over the next three years, the Supreme Court rules that prohibiting the sale or distribution of contraceptives to persons under 16 is unconstitutional and that if states require minors to obtain parental consent for an abortion, they must also give minors the alternative of obtaining the consent of a judge, in confidential proceedings  a so-called "judicial bypass."

To underscore the importance of birth control access to teens, the Guttmacher Institute, an independent research institute established in 1968 by Planned Parenthood, publishes 11 Million Teenagers, the first nationally distributed document to focus attention on the problem of teen pregnancy and childbearing in the United States.



The decade's initial successes slow when opponents of the women's movement attack federal funding of abortion for the most vulnerable Americans — poor women. In 1976, Rep. Henry Hyde, a Republican from Illinois, introduces what is popularly called the "Hyde Amendment," which prohibits the use of federal Medicaid funds for abortions for poor women, although continuing to allow funds to be used for pregnancy, delivery, and child-care costs. The bill passes.

Although Planned Parenthood and other groups vigorously fight in Congress and the courts for a continuation of funding, anti-abortion restrictions are added and tightened in subsequent years, continuously reducing the number of poor women eligible to receive federal assistance for abortions. In 1977, Rosie Jiménez, a Latina and single mother, becomes the first woman known to have died from an illegal abortion after the Hyde Amendment goes into effect.

The success of Hyde is indicative of the growing anti-choice, anti-welfare tilt in the Republican Party, which adopts its first anti-choice platform in 1976. That same year the Democratic Party adopts its first pro-choice platform.



In 1978, Faye Wattleton is appointed president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the first woman president since Margaret Sanger. For 14 years she guides the organization through a wave of violent opposition — assassinations, clinic bombings, arson attacks, and anthrax scares — that are designed to intimidate Planned Parenthood doctors, other health care providers and staff, frighten away patients, and close clinics. Instead, Planned Parenthood continues to win in the courts, mobilize supporters to protect and defend patients, and provide safe birth control, health care, and information to millions of Americans.

In 1980, Ronald Reagan — the first U.S. president to strongly and openly oppose abortion — is elected. Reagan runs an unapologetically nostalgic campaign, harkening back to a simplified, idealized past that has few answers to current social challenges:

  • AIDS develops into a full-blown epidemic during his presidency, but President Reagan is slow to respond. For years he prevents Surgeon General C. Everett Koop from speaking out about the epidemic.
  • Inflammatory rhetoric in Washington against abortion and birth control is echoed more ominously in a mounting spate of violent attacks and threats against family planning doctors and clinics across the country. Yet the administration turns a blind eye to the campaign of terror.


Targeting Teens

Initially, President Reagan has limited success in pushing his most draconian domestic social policies through Congress. Planned Parenthood and other women's advocates repeatedly thwart his attempts to implement the conservative social agenda of his most ardent supporters through administrative maneuvers. In one case, the administration defies Congress in 1982 by issuing a regulation ordering the nation's 4,000 Title X-funded public health clinics to notify parents when teens are issued prescription contraceptives. Family planning providers and New York State challenge the regulation, known as the "squeal rule," because doctors must violate the confidentiality of their patients. The courts overturn the regulation.

Conservatives have more success in limiting sex education for teens. In 1981, Congress passes the Adolescent Family Life Act, funding "chastity education" programs, instead of effective comprehensive programs. In response, the Guttmacher Institute releases a study showing that the U.S. teen pregnancy rate of 96 per 1,000 is the highest in the developed world. Compared to the U.S., countries with the lowest rates of pregnancy, abortion, and childbearing among teens have the most accessible contraceptive services, the most effective programs for sexuality education, and the most liberal attitudes toward sex.

Planned Parenthood and other groups warn that denying teens access to good information and confidential health care services could have tragic consequences. Nevertheless, the U.S. Supreme Court upholds a Utah statute requiring a physician to notify the parents of a minor still living with her parents before performing an abortion, in the absence of proof that harm would result to the minor if her parents were notified. In 1988, 17-year-old Becky Bell dies from the complications of illegal abortion, which she has in order to avoid the embarrassment of observing an Indiana law that requires minors to obtain the consent of a parent before terminating an unwanted pregnancy. Her parents become outspoken opponents of parental consent laws.


The Gag Rule: Targeting Family Planning Overseas

In 1984 the Reagan administration unveils the global gag rule at the United Nations Population Conference in Mexico City. Sometimes called the "Mexico City policy," it denies U.S. family planning funds to any overseas organizations that offer counseling about abortion or abortion referrals, even if they use their own money to do so.

Planned Parenthood announces its refusal to comply, citing its unwillingness to censor information, counseling, and services that women desperately need. The government cuts international family planning by $40 million and defunds the International Planned Parenthood Federation, of which PPFA is a member, and UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. Planned Parenthood obtains court orders to continue funding and files a joint lawsuit challenging the policy as a violation of medical ethics and free speech, without success.


The Campaign of Intimidation and Terror

Anti-abortion factions, angry about the failure to overturn Roe v. Wade through the courts or Congress, increasingly target and intimidate women seeking family planning services. Extremists terrorize family planning providers and patients, barricade family planning centers, bomb clinics, and stalk doctors and patients. FBI Director William Webster says he does not consider clinic bombings to be acts of terrorism and therefore does not give the mounting violence toward women and doctors high priority.

In 1985, anti-family planning zealots launch a "Year of Pain and Fear." They firebomb and vandalize family planning and abortion clinics, assault health clinic staff, and issue death threats to doctors and staff.

In 1986, Planned Parenthood affiliate facilities in New York, Michigan, Missouri, and Massachusetts are targets of arson, bombs, and other violence.

Barricades set up by anti-abortion extremists force women seeking reproductive services to walk through a gauntlet of jeering protesters. To bolster limited help from law enforcement officials, volunteers from around the country establish patient escort services. They shield women trying to enter Planned Parenthood and other clinics as much as possible from the abuse hurled by anti-choice demonstrators.


Censoring Clinics, Slowing Research

In 1987, President Reagan proposes a domestic gag rule for public health clinics funded by Title X, the nation's major program to reduce unintended pregnancy by providing contraceptive and related reproductive health care services to millions of low-income women and teens. The gag rule forbids clinics from counseling a client about abortion — even if she specifically asks for such information, and even if withholding the information would endanger her health.

In a subsequent suit, Dr. Irving Rust, former medical director of the Planned Parenthood health center in the Bronx, argues that the withdrawal of federal funds from clinics that provide abortion counseling is an infringement of a physician's exercise of free speech. The U.S. Supreme Court disagrees, upholding the gag rule and thus permitting government censorship of doctors.

Lawsuits, violence, and the threat of violence are slowing progress on the research and availability of birth control options:

  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approves the distribution of the Copper T380A IUD, but for four years no manufacturers or distributors are willing to make it available to women in the U.S.
  • The risk of expensive product liability resulting from litigation also leads G.D. Searle to withdraw its safe and effective Copper 7 and Copper T IUDs.
  • U.S. anti-birth control activists pledge to keep off the world market a medical alternative to early aspiration abortion — mifepristone (formerly known as RU-486) — even though it could help reduce the number of women who die from unsafe, illegal abortions. Not until 2000, twelve years later, does the FDA approve mifepristone for use.

The majority of Americans continue to overwhelmingly support access to birth control, yet with the violence and extremist rhetoric cowing politicians, the courts are left as the key defender of women's rights. That protection is threatened when President Reagan nominates Judge Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court. Judge Bork denies the constitutional right to privacy, which underpins the legality of family planning. In an unprecedented cooperative effort, Planned Parenthood joins more than 250 civil rights, civil liberties, religious, labor, educational, legal, environmental, health, and women's groups to successfully block the appointment. The cooperation among progressive groups signals the start of a new era of mobilization.



In 1988, Republican presidential candidate George H.W. Bush burnishes his credentials among the increasingly organized and vocal anti-family planning right wing and runs on an anti-choice platform, despite his outspoken support for family planning early in his career. Once in office, the George H. W. Bush administration continues the anti-family planning policies of the Reagan years. President Bush pressures Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan into publicly recanting his pro-choice position.

While politicians pander to far-right extremists, Planned Parenthood launches an era of grassroots mobilization and increased cooperation with like-minded progressives at home and internationally. Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice advocates participate in two mass protests organized by the National Organization for Women in 1989. Hundreds of thousands participate in the first, in Washington, DC. More than two million women and men participate in the nationwide mobilization at the end of the year.

With the battle for women's health options returning to the grassroots, PPFA establishes the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, its political and advocacy arm, in 1989. The action fund engages in public education campaigns, grassroots organizing, and legislative advocacy. By 1992, dubbed the Year of the Woman, more women — 56 — are elected to Congress than ever before, thanks in large part to efforts by women's pro-choice PACs.

Planned Parenthood also warns women about anti-choice groups establishing hundreds of so-called "crisis pregnancy centers." These bogus clinics, usually lacking professional medical services, are designed to lure women with unintended pregnancies and intimidate them into not having abortions. Later, a congressional investigation into the centers reveals that the clinics often deliberately frighten and mislead women about their options, lie about pregnancy test results, and discourage use of reliable birth control measures.


Limiting Women's Options

Despite Bork's defeat, the closely divided U.S. Supreme Court starts restricting abortion access. In 1989, the court's Webster v. Reproductive Health Services decision gives states more latitude to restrict abortion. Three years later, in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the court upholds new Pennsylvania roadblocks to abortion, including a mandatory 24-hour waiting period and a parental-consent provision for minors. Four of the nine justices argue that Roe should be overturned outright. With states given more latitude to restrict abortion, divisive legislative and electoral battles at the state level quickly ensue.

Threats of lawsuits and political foot-dragging continue to hinder American women's access to birth control measures available to women in other developed nations. On December 10, 1990, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approves the use of a long-acting, reversible, combined hormonal contraceptive implant, already in use in 16 countries. Two years later, after vigorous advocacy by Planned Parenthood, the FDA approves Depo-Provera, an injectable, progestin-only contraceptive that works for three months.



In 1993, President Bill Clinton — the first pro-choice president in 12 years — arrives at the White House. In one of his first acts, he repeals the Title X gag rule, which prohibited low-income patients from receiving medical information, counseling, or referrals for abortion services. That same day, Clinton overturns the global gag rule that denied funding to international family planning organizations. While in office, President Clinton vetoes two federal abortion bans. Physicians could have been jailed, fined, and/or sued for performing safe abortion procedures only vaguely defined in the legislation.

During the Clinton administration, the FDA approves new options for women to control their fertility:

  • A monthly combined hormone injectable contraceptive — Lunelle.
  • Two new combined hormone contraceptives, the vaginal ring — NuvaRing and the contraceptive patch — Ortho Evra.

In 1993, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Bray v. Alexandria Women's Health Clinic that a federal civil rights statute does not protect women seeking abortions from clinic blockades and other anti-choice demonstrations.

The escalating terrorism against women's health facilities and providers of abortion that began in 1977 takes a lethal turn:

  • On March 10, 1993, David Gunn, M.D., an abortion provider in Pensacola, Florida, is shot and killed by an anti-abortion protester outside the clinic where he worked.
  • On August 21, George Wayne Patterson, M.D., who had been repeatedly stalked by anti-abortion zealots, is shot on the street in Mobile, Alabama. His murder remains unsolved.

With a pro-choice administration, public outrage, and a record number of women members of Congress, both Congress and the courts finally respond.

Recognizing that federal laws are inadequate to deal with growing violence at reproductive health care centers, Congress enacts the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act. FACE makes it a federal crime to use or attempt force, the threat of force, or physical obstruction to injure, intimidate, or interfere with providers of reproductive health care services or their patients.

In National Organization for Women v. Scheidler, the U.S. Supreme Court rules unanimously that the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act can be used against violent anti-abortion protesters who attempt to eliminate access to abortion by using extortion and intimidation to drive the clinics out of business. In Madsen v. Women's Health Center, the court upholds as constitutional a buffer zone around health care clinics that is intended to protect access to the clinic.

Despite the legal protection, the acts of terror continue:

  • Violent attacks by anti-choice zealots include death threats, stalking incidents, assaults and kidnappings, bombings, and butyric acid attacks at health care facilities.
  • On July 29, 1994, Dr. John Bayard Britton, an abortion provider, and James Barrett, his volunteer escort, are assassinated outside an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Florida.
  • Two receptionists at Brookline, Massachusetts, health centers — Shannon Lowney, at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, and Leanne Nichols, at a Preterm clinic on the same street — are shot and killed on December 30.

After their drubbing in the previous election, Republicans soften their rhetoric and take control of Congress in 1994, promising a vague "Contract with America" that avoids controversial topics like abortion.

Despite a conservative Congress, the Clinton administration and American women's groups like Planned Parenthood participate in the two most important international conferences on women ever held.

  • At the United Nations International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt, in 1994, more than 160 government delegations agree on a program to empower women and expand reproductive health and family planning services worldwide.
  • In 1995, the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, reaffirms that women's rights are human rights, calls for decriminalizing abortion around the world, and affirms the right of all women to control their own fertility.


Congress: Abstinence and Inequity

In 1996, Gloria Feldt begins her decade-long tenure as president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Under Feldt, Planned Parenthood works to expand congressional support for medically accurate, comprehensive sexuality education programs that include abstinence. Instead, the Republican-dominated Congress, by attaching a provision to the popular welfare-reform law of 1996, establishes a multi-million dollar federal fund for programs teaching abstinence-until-marriage exclusively.

Because states are required to match federal funds for the programs, state dollars that previously supported medically accurate, comprehensive education are diverted to abstinence-only programs. Even in 2001, when U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher issues a call to improve teen sexual health and notes the importance of educating teens about family planning, money continues to flow to ineffective abstinence-only programs, totaling more than $500 million by the end of 2002.

Planned Parenthood also works with Congress to rectify a burdensome gap in insurance coverage. The Equity in Prescription Insurance and Contraceptive Coverage Act requires health insurers to cover contraceptive care in the same way they cover other prescriptions and medical services. A year later when insurers rush to cover Viagra, a newly approved medication for men to alleviate erectile dysfunction, Planned Parenthood launches a campaign pointing out the hypocrisy. As a result of the nationwide outcry and congressional inaction, contraceptive equity legislation is introduced in 22 states. In a subsequent victory, a federal judge rules in 2002 that an employer's exclusion of prescription contraception from its health benefits is illegal sex discrimination. By then, 20 states require equitable contraceptive coverage.

Despite nationwide support for birth control, clinics remain under siege:

  • In 1998 Planned Parenthood health centers across the country receive anonymous letters that claim to contain anthrax.
  • On January 29, police officer Robert Sanderson is killed in the bombing of a women's reproductive health center in Birmingham, Alabama. The bomb horribly maims Nurse Emily Lyons, who is permanently disabled.
  • On October 23, an anti-abortion extremist murders Dr. Barnett A. Slepian, firing a rifle through the window of Dr. Slepian's kitchen, where he was standing with his children.
  • By the end of the decade, Planned Parenthood and other health care centers have been the victims of 40 bombings, 406 stalking cases, 112 assaults, three kidnappings, and 16 attempted murders.



At the dawn of a new century and new millennium:

  • Ninety-eight percent of American women use birth control at some point in their lives.
  • Eighty-nine percent of Americans favor more access to information about birth control.
  • Eighty-one percent think birth control access is a good way to prevent abortions.

Yet On January 22, 2001, the 28th anniversary of Roe v. Wade and President George W. Bush's first full day in office, the president re-imposes the global gag rule, restricting funding for international family planning. In protest, on February 19, Presidents' Day, Americans send more than $600,000 to Planned Parenthood and 30,000 letters to President George W. Bush. Later in the year, thousands of Americans also donate their federal tax rebates to Planned Parenthood.


The Court: Supporting Women

In March, 2001, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in Ferguson v. City of Charleston that women enjoy the same right as all Americans to seek medical services without fear of unreasonable intrusion by government authorities. While women may be encouraged to seek prenatal care, they may not be coerced with threats of criminal prosecution. Also, the results of tests, including drug tests, may not be shared with non-medical personnel without the consent of the patient. A year later, Planned Parenthood wins an important victory for all providers and recipients of reproductive health care when the court leaves intact a lower court ruling that forbids an extremist group from issuing "wanted" posters that target doctors.

In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States, Planned Parenthood offices across the country receive hundreds of death threat letters claiming to contain anthrax and signed by "The Army of God." Once again demonstrating the staff's courage and resilience, Planned Parenthood affiliates keep their doors open across the country, making sure that no client goes unserved.


Breaking Treaties, Freezing Family Planning Funds

Taking advantage of the reluctance of citizens and the media to speak out against the president during a time of war, the Bush administration launches a determined campaign to turn back the clock on women's rights and choice, a litmus-test issue among his right-wing supporters.

Initially, the Bush administration targets international programs that promote women's health and family planning programs, despite protests by Planned Parenthood and allied women's organizations:

  • The U.S. delegation to the U.N. Children's Summit, led by Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson, opposes medically accurate sexuality education and the use of condoms for HIV/AIDS prevention.
  • President Bush withholds $34 million in funding for birth control, maternal care, and childcare, and HIV/AIDS prevention from UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice withdraws support for a women's rights treaty, leaving the U.S. alone among the most developed nations not to ratify the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
  • The U.S. State Department freezes $3 million in funding to the World Health Organization (WHO) in response to far-right objections to WHO's Human Reproduction Program.
  • The U.S. delegation to a U.N. regional meeting reverses U.S. support of a 1994 global agreement affirming the right of all couples and individuals to determine freely and responsibly the number and spacing of their children, and to have the information and means to do so.
  • The U.S. State Department denies funds for refugee AIDS prevention to an international consortium because one organization provides abortions in programs not related to the HIV prevention services.


Censoring Information, Restricting Access

The Bush administration and congressional allies pursue their domestic agenda to reduce family planning funding, restrict abortion access, and stop the funding of research on sexual issues. Against all evidence provided by Planned Parenthood and other allies and experts, the administration and its congressional supporters insist that knowledge about sexual health encourages promiscuity. They mandate abstinence-only programs and limit vital information about birth control options and sexual health:

  • HHS websites remove medically accurate information about condom effectiveness.
  • The HHS Secretary's Advisory Committee on Human Research Protection Charter gives embryos new status as "human subjects," thereby laying the groundwork to diminish a woman's right to control her own body by giving embryos equal legal status.
  • The U.S. House of Representatives passes legislation, allowing health care entities to discriminate against any provider who even offers information about abortion.
  • The president appoints anti-choice extremists to key FDA committees and to oversee Title X, the nation's family planning program.
  • Congress prohibits the more than 100,000 women serving in the military and living on American bases overseas from obtaining abortion services in overseas military hospitals, even with their own money.
  • Congress approves an 83 percent increase for unproven abstinence-only program grants.
  • Anti-choice lawmakers pressure scientists to abandon research on AIDS, sexuality, and high-risk behaviors by suggesting that their NIH funding may be in jeopardy.


Mobilizing Against an Abortion Ban

In 2003, President Bush signs into law a dangerous abortion ban — the first legislation to criminalize an abortion procedure since the Roe v. Wade ruling. The law forbids the procedure even if a woman's health is endangered, forbids doctors to recommend an abortion even if it is medically appropriate to protect the health of the woman, mandates prison terms and financial penalties for doctors who circumvent the law, and allows male partners or parents to sue the woman if she has the procedure. Planned Parenthood and two other organizations sue the government. Three separate federal district courts subsequently strike down the ban because it fails to protect women's health, poses an undue burden on a woman's right to choose, and is unconstitutionally vague.

Planned Parenthood plays a leading role in organizing the March for Women's Lives on April 25, 2004, the largest and most diverse pro-choice demonstration in history. Feeling a new urgency to show support for women, more than one million Americans gather on the National Mall in Washington, DC, to protest the president's policies that are negatively affecting women.

The U.S. Supreme Court takes center stage when President Bush nominates two conservative judges:

  • In 2005, Karen Pearl, PPFA interim president, testifies during Senate hearings against the nomination of John Roberts to the U.S. Supreme Court because of mounting evidence that he would not uphold the right to privacy or honor constitutional protections against laws that endanger women's health.
  • Despite Judge Roberts' appointment, on January 18, in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, et al, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously sustains its precedent that abortion laws must protect a woman's health and safety.
  • On January 31, 2006, the U.S. Senate confirms Judge Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court, replacing retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the pivotal vote protecting a woman's right to choose on a divided court. Planned Parenthood vigorously opposes Alito's nomination because of his long record of hostility toward women's rights and privacy rights.
  • On April 18, 2007, the newly ultraconservative Supreme Court overturns the lower court rulings and upholds the abortion ban that President Bush signed into law in 2003. The decision retreats from more than 30 years of precedent that says women's health must be the paramount concern in laws that restrict abortion access.



In February 2006, Cecile Richards assumes the position of Planned Parenthood Federation of America president. A leader in national progressive politics, Ms. Richards previously served as founder and president of America Votes, a coalition of more than 30 national organizations, including the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, created to maximize voter registration, education, and grassroots mobilization.

Following the confirmation of Justice Alito, anti-choice forces in 12 states began to "test" the new court — introducing abortion bans and trigger bills that would automatically outlaw abortion should Roe v. Wade be overturned. Planned Parenthood launches a successful campaign in the endangered states, blocking bans in nine states. In the battleground state of South Dakota, which passes a ban, Planned Parenthood and its volunteers support local pro-choice groups in successfully collecting nearly twice the number of petition signatures needed to place the law on the November ballot. Voters defeat the ban.

After years of controversy and delay under the Bush administration, the FDA moves forward on critical breakthroughs for women:

  • On June 8, the FDA approves the first vaccine that will protect against the two types of human papilloma virus (HPV) that cause genital warts and the two types of HPV that cause about 70 percent of U.S. cervical cancer cases.
  • Following the July 17 approval by the FDA of Implanon, a new hormonal contraceptive implant for women, Planned Parenthood announces the launch of a nationwide program to train clinicians to provide the new birth control method.
  • On August 24, the FDA approves over-the-counter status for Plan B emergency contraception (EC) for women 18 and older, after a series of delays that elicit national outrage. Two FDA medical advisory committees deemed Plan B safe and recommended its over-the-counter sale in 2004, but political appointees within the FDA bowed to anti-choice pressure and stalled approval. Planned Parenthood was a leading voice in lobbying for expanded access for Plan B, which blocks the release of an egg or prevents a fertilized egg from being implanted in the uterus, thereby preventing unintended pregnancy and abortion.

After Planned Parenthood's state and national informational campaigns on the importance of comprehensive sex education, 82 percent of Americans say they favor comprehensive sex education over the narrow abstinence-only approach. As of June 4, 2007, 10 states have rejected abstinence programs, citing studies showing they fail to adequately protect or prepare young people.


In the waning days of the Bush administration, attacks on women’s health persist.

In July 2008, the Bush administration proposes a Department of Health and Human Services rule that would limit the rights of patients to receive complete and accurate reproductive health information. Planned Parenthood leads the charge against the rule, which threatens to undermine health care access at nearly 600,000 pharmacies, clinics, and hospitals across the country. When the disastrous “midnight regulation” is implemented, with just days left in the Bush administration, Planned Parenthood files suit.

On college campuses across the country, young activists take up another key reproductive rights battle — affordable birth control. Due to a technical error made by Congress, birth control prices skyrocketed by up to 900 percent in 2007. The surging prices hit low-income women and college students the hardest. To raise awareness and urge the government to action, Planned Parenthood energizes its vast network of activists. Our hard work helps secure the introduction of the Prevention Through Affordable Access Act in the Senate and House of Representatives, and Planned Parenthood continues to push lawmakers to make birth control affordable to all who need it.

Among the struggles, there is also success.

• Sex Education. Planned Parenthood reaches its goal of convincing half of all states to decline Title V abstinence-only funding.

• Birth Control. New Jersey enacts a measure that requires a pharmacy to properly fill all lawful prescription drugs or devices that it carries for customers, without undue delay. After six long years of hard-fought battles, Wisconsin enacts a Compassionate Care for Rape Victims measure in 2008. And 11 states introduce Birth Control Protection Acts to guarantee the right to access and to use contraception through statutory and/or constitutional protection.

• Funding for Family Planning. Thanks in large part to Planned Parenthood’s advocacy, the 110th Congress increases domestic family planning funding, cuts funds for failed abstinence-only programs, and approves the largest one-year dollar increase ever to international family planning funding. The Senate also passes its third repeal of the harmful global gag rule.

• Abortion Access. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the federal abortion ban, seven states (AK, AZ, HI, KY, MI, WI, and WV) consider state-copycat bills, and we help defeat all of them.

On January 20, 2009, a new day dawns for reproductive health and rights with the inauguration of President Barack Obama, who makes clear his commitment to ensuring access to comprehensive health care for women and their families. With a partner in the White House and allies in Congress, Planned Parenthood renews its efforts to help secure reproductive rights and define health care reform for the 21st century.

January 2009

• As one of his first acts in office, President Obama overturns the “global gag rule,” ending eight long years of policies that have blocked access to basic health care for women worldwide.

March 2009

• PPFA President Cecile Richards participates in the White House Forum on Health Reform, joining members of Congress, advocacy groups, and members of the Obama administration in a discussion of ideas to improve America’s ailing health care system.

• A federal court rules that the FDA must make Plan B emergency contraception available over the counter to women aged 17 and older.

• At the Planned Parenthood National Conference, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, accepts our highest honor, the PPFA Margaret Sanger Award.

April 2009

• MTV and the Kaiser Family Foundation, working with Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) and its nationwide network of health centers, unveil GYT: Get Yourself Tested, a campaign to increase testing for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among those under 25 years old.

May 2009

• Sunday, May 31, Dr. George Tiller, an expert in performing medically complex surgical abortions, is murdered by an anti-abortion extremist while entering his Wichita, KS, church for Sunday services.

Health-Care Reform

• With the battle for health care reform in full swing, the House passes the Stupak amendment in November 2009, eliminating abortion coverage for some women with health insurance and prohibiting abortion coverage under the planned health insurance exchanges. 

• In December 2009, Congress passes the Women’s Health Amendment, offered to the health care reform bill by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD). The amendment will guarantee health insurance coverage for women’s basic preventive care and screenings at no cost to the patient.

• By March 2010, the Senate has rejected the Stupak amendment, but Senator Ben Nelson introduces an anti-abortion provision to the Senate’s health care bill. 

• On March 21, 2010, the historic health care reform bill, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, passes without Nelson’s ban, through President Obama’s last-minute intervention.

March 2010

• Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-NY) introduces the Global Democracy Promotion Act of 2010 to bar future administrations from reinstituting the so-called Mexico City policy, also known as the “global gag rule,” which blocked access to basic health care for women worldwide. This legislation firmly states that the U.S. government supports women’s health and freedom of speech abroad in the same way it does in the United States.

April 2010

• Scott Roeder is sentenced to life in prison following his conviction for the 
first-degree murder of reproductive health care provider Dr. George Tiller.

May 2010

• May 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of the vote by an FDA Advisory Committee to approve the use of the first birth control pill. According to a poll released May 6, eight out of 10 women in America say that insurance companies should be required to cover birth control pills and other forms of contraception at low or no cost, just as they must for other medications used for prevention.

June 2010

• PPFA endorses the National Consensus Statement on Latino Teen Pregnancy Prevention along with 20 other leading sexual and reproductive health organizations and Latino advocacy and youth groups. Latinas face the highest teen pregnancy rate among ethnic groups in the United States, with 52 percent of Latina teens becoming pregnant at least once before age 20. The consensus statement calls for giving young women and men the tools and education to help them make informed decisions about their sexual lives.

September 2010

• PPFA is designated a top-ranked nonprofit by philanthropic experts through Philanthropedia. Experts surveyed by Philanthropedia rank nonprofit organizations based on their success in carrying out their respective missions and evidence they are having a high impact on their issue of focus. 

October 2010

• Eighteen local Planned Parenthood affiliates across the country are recognized as leaders in teen pregnancy prevention as they are selected by the Department of Health and Human Services to receive new grant funding as part of President Obama’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative. As trusted providers of sex education, the 18 selected affiliates are awarded grants or are part of a winning grant as a subcontractor, totaling nearly $19 million.

December 2010

• PPFA launches its new online widget — “Am I Pregnant?” — which asks users a short series of questions in a dynamic interactive format. Based on each individual’s answers, the online tool helps women determine when to take a pregnancy test. The tool also allows women to locate pregnancy testing or contraceptive services in their area.

April 2011

• The U.S. Senate votes to reject a House proposal to bar Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds to provide care to women and families through federally funded public health care programs.

• TIME names PPFA President Cecile Richards to the 2011 TIME 100, the magazine’s annual list of the 100 most influential people in the world.

July 2011

• The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends including prescription birth control as a women’s preventive health service, which would be covered without co-pays by new insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act.

August 2011

• The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) decides to include the full range of FDA-approved contraceptive methods as a women’s preventive health service, making them available without co-pays under the Affordable Care Act.

September 2011

• Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for the House Energy and Commerce Committee, launches what appears to be a politically motivated investigation and demands that PPFA and its affiliates produce an onerous amount of records, some going as far back as 13 years.

October 2011

• PPFA launches Planned Parenthood Global, a new phase of its international programs. For 40 years, PPFA has worked with partner organizations in developing countries, providing financial and technical support for women’s health care delivery and advocacy. Changing the name of PPFA’s international division to Planned Parenthood Global signifies a new era for the program, concentrating on targeted partnerships and the development of pioneering models that can be replicated and scaled up by others.

• October 16 is the 95th anniversary of the opening of the first birth control clinic in America by Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger.

Tea Party Republicans continue to attack Planned Parenthood in Congress, and the fight against Planned Parenthood has gone local with more than 1,000 state bills related to women’s access to reproductive care. Despite these challenges, Planned Parenthood health centers, continuing to serve millions of women, men, and young people, are working to create the healthiest generation ever. 

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History & Successes