On Oct. 16, 1916, three women opened a birth control clinic in Brooklyn. One hundred years later, Planned Parenthood is a leading health care provider for women across the country.
To celebrate its centennial, Planned Parenthood has unveiled a website with videos and images that take a visitor through an interactive timeline of its history, from when the doors of the Brooklyn clinic first opened to today, highlighting historic milestones in women’s health care along the way.
Key bullet points include: the formation of the clergy advisory board and later the underground network of 1,400 clergy members helping women gain access to abortion (including two rabbis); the year 1970, when Planned Parenthood of Syracuse, N.Y., became the first affiliate to provide legal abortion after New York state repealed the law criminalizing the procedure; the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, which made abortion legal nationwide; the approval by the Food and Drug Administration of Plan B in 1999.
Despite offering a variety of affordable medical care to men, women and youth, the organization’s name has become largely synonymous with abortion, especially in the wake of the legislative attempt to defund it. But abortion accounts for only a tiny fraction of the services offered by the organization, including cancer screenings, contraception, and the screening and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases and infections.
“People often say to me, ‘They talk about abortion first and you need to get the word out there that you do more than that,’” said Dayle Steinberg, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania. “People do know that. When we do focus groups, they understand Planned Parenthood does more in one day to prevent a need for abortion than any other organization that has ever existed. I would like to say I want people to know that, but I believe they do.”
Steinberg first got involved with Planned Parenthood during a semester-long practicum when she was in graduate school at Temple.
“I chose the local Planned Parenthood affiliate because I always felt that women had the absolute right to control their own destinies, and that in order to do that, and in order to be fully productive members of society, they had to be able to control their own fertility,” Steinberg said.
Now, after 35 years with the organization — the last 15 of which she’s served in her current role — the work is still a challenge.
“For all the strides that we’ve made in securing access to birth control, specifically, and comprehensive sexuality education, far too many women still face really insurmountable barriers to health care, particularly abortion services,” she said. “The legislatures in many states across this country are composed of elected officials who are politically motivated to attack reproductive health care — and who’s paying the price for that? Well, women are paying the price for that. And we have a lot of work that remains to be done, and we can’t lose sight of that.”
Planned Parenthood has long partnered with disparate religious groups since the inception of its first clergy committee in 1943. This includes Judaism, Steinberg said.
“Human values are Jewish values,” she said, “and obviously Jewish values include respect for women and respect for families, and if we care about that then we certainly are aligning ourselves with Planned Parenthood’s work to ensure that women’s reproductive rights are respected, and children are brought into the world wanted and loved.”
Many national Jewish women’s organizations chimed in on social media on Oct. 16 to celebrate the 100th anniversary.
“Happy birthday, @PPFA! Thank you for providing care & education to millions of people, including women & families. #100YearsStrong,” tweeted Jewish Women International.
National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) tweeted: “Mazel tov on going #100YearsStrong today @PPFA! NCJW supports the care & services u provide in communities nationwide. #reprohealth #sexed.”
Lynne Jacobs, Pennsylvania policy advocate for NCJW Greater Philadelphia Section, said that NCJW and Planned Parenthood have shared values for a long time — in fact, NCJW started even before Planned Parenthood in 1893.
“The idea of bodily autonomy and the choice to have children or not have children, to decide if you want to use birth control or not, should be up to each person,” Jacobs said, “so NCJW has taken that position for a very, very long time.”
Jacobs said she appreciates the variety of services Planned Parenthood has come to offer in the last 100 years.
“They have clinics that in some cases are the only ones for many miles around in rural areas, and they provide a lot of services to men and women, just general health care,” Jacobs said. “And a lot of times, states don’t provide as many clinics out in the rural areas as are needed, so in many cases the Planned Parenthood office has stepped in to provide many different kinds of health care for families all around.
“So in that sense,” she continued, “I feel like they’ve gotten a bad rep because they do so much good for the health of thousands and thousands of people around the country.”
And Steinberg said those people are grateful.
“For the past century, Planned Parenthood has really transformed women’s health and has empowered millions of women to make informed decisions,” she said. “There’s not anywhere I go, seriously, where a woman doesn’t say to me, ‘Planned Parenthood meant so much to me.’ Some women say it ‘changed my life,’ and that’s so gratifying.”
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