(WOMENSENEWS)–College students this fall returned to school after a tumultuous summer for Planned Parenthood, one of the country’s major providers of birth control- related services.
Indiana was the first state to defund Planned Parenthood on April 27 after a bill passed through Congress in February. Kansas, Wisconsin and Texas followed suit over the summer.
North Carolina overrode Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto and stripped Planned Parenthood’s funding from its state budget.
On Aug. 1 a Kansas federal judge blocked a defunding law.
New Hampshire’s legislature–which is female dominant–voted to defund local Planned Parenthoods on July 11.
Often, the political opposition to Planned Parenthood is based on the group’s provision of abortion services, even though the provider of family planning services does not use any federal money to pay for that procedure.
But one New Hampshire lawmaker couched his opposition to Planned Parenthood in a different way.
"If they want to have a good time, why not let them pay for it?" Councilor Raymond Wieczorek of Manchester told the Concord Monitor in July after voting to defund Planned Parenthood in the state.
Wieczorek’s comment against public funding for birth control and condoms ignores a large segment of the campus population for whom sex is not necessarily a "good time." It also ignores the public health importance of using condoms.
One-in-four women in college today have been victims of rape, and nearly 90 percent of them knew their rapist, according to Robin Warshaw, author of the 1994 book, "I Never Called it Rape," after conducting original research of women on college campuses.
If Planned Parenthood can’t afford to provide college rape survivors with emergency contraception this means "paying" for a good time may result in consequences beyond money.
Birth control of course also protects everyone from sexually transmitted diseases, but lawmakers such as Wieczorek don’t seem to care about that. They appear happy to stop free condom programs.
How irresponsible can you get when the HIV/AIDS epidemic marked its 30th year in 2011 and officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this June flagged the dangers for people under 30, stating that "a new generation that has never known a time without effective HIV treatments and who may not fully understand the significant health threat HIV poses."
Local Planned Parenthoods generally don’t keep separate data on whether someone seeking their services is enrolled at a nearby college or university. However, one Planned Parenthood in Central New York that is responsible for the Rochester and Syracuse region makes an underlying connection between the most common age group to use their services.
"The largest group of patients fall in the 18-29-year-old age range (68.4 percent), which is generally the same broad range that college students fall within," said Betty DeFazio, director of community affairs and public policy at the Planned Parenthood based in Syracuse, N.Y.
But some in this age group who can be an example are choosing not to. Instead of seizing the chance to discuss the seriousness of not using birth control and the importance of date rape in her memoir published in June, Bristol Palin, daughter of the ex-Alaskan governor, simply brushes over the issue. In "Not Afraid of Life: My Journey So Far," she describes her first sexual encounter with then-boyfriend Levy Johnston, writing about "woozy charms" of wine coolers and eventually passing out drunk, only to wake up the next morning and realize she’d had sex for the first time.
"Suddenly, I wondered why it was called ‘losing’ your virginity, because it felt more like it had been stolen," Palin writes.
That doesn’t help other young women who find themselves in the same position clearly recognize what just happened to them or seek recourse.
Jessica Valenti, author and founder of the blog Feministing.com, also took issue with that passage. "Not calling it assault," she wrote in a Washington Post column, "and blaming herself, as she does in the book — sends a dangerous message to young women who may have similar experiences."
Supporting Effective Programs
In a positive move, in October 2010, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded $155 million to states, nonprofit organizations, school districts and universities to support programs already proven effective in combating teen pregnancy.
That’s a smart alternative to the Bush administration’s abstinence-only education policy.
The attack on Planned Parenthood is abstinence-only policy by other means and some college students are "just saying no" to that.
At Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., for instance, a student group has created a Youtube video of students holding signs that read, "I have sex," "I use birth control" and "I’ve been tested." The text at the end of the video encourages cutting corporate entitlements, such as tax subsidies for lucrative multinational oil companies, and saving Planned Parenthood.
While there aren’t any handy statistics to show the extent to which college women are saved from unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases because of free contraception attained from a local Planned Parenthood, it’s common knowledge on campuses how crucial that can be.
"To whatever extent college students are relying on Planned Parenthood, the defunding sends a clear message to those students: your bodies and your sexual health is not important," Jaclyn Friedman, co-editor of the anthology "Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Empowerment Without Rape" said in an e-mail interview.
‘On Your Own’
If you need information, counseling or medical care, you’re on your own now, added Friedman.
"In a culture that already isolates and stigmatizes rape victims, that message — not to mention the loss of access to a variety of physical and mental health services crucial to victims in the aftermath of an assault — is beyond unfortunate. It’s immoral," she said.
When the funding allocated for Planned Parenthoods is eliminated from a state’s budget, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re closed for business, though their services do appear to be hurt by cuts.
Depending on the individual state’s situation, some Planned Parenthoods will be in danger of closing and some will receive less funding and as a result, less services, but will remain open.
New Jersey has led the way on state slashing of Planned Parenthood allocations, eliminating $7.5 million in family planning from its budget, according to an April 2011 study by the state’s Planned Parenthood. As such, the state provides a snapshot of what might lie ahead for other states.
As Women’s eNews has reported before, New Jersey Planned Parenthood’s website reports six of their clinics have closed and predicts 35,000 fewer patients will be served in 2011 in comparison to the 131,000 patients served in 2010. The remaining 52 New Jersey clinics have cut back on hours and fired staff.
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Krystie Lee Yandoli is a freelance writer and student at Syracuse University.
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