In all the strategems, rhetoric and political theater surrounding Planned Parenthood, it’s easy to forget that what we’re arguing about and fighting for are people. We fight for access to quality, affordable healthcare for people who need it. But we are also fighting to save the jobs of the people who work at Planned Parenthood. Because they are real people, too.
Let me introduce you to one such person who works at Planned Parenthood of Southern Nevada:
How long have you worked at Planned Parenthood of Southern Nevada and what role do you have there?
I’ve worked at PPSN since April of 1999 and I’ve had the same position here since then. I am in charge of the education programs here. I cultivate relationships with community collaborators and deliver comprehensive, medically accurate sex education to around 3,000 people in Southern Nevada per year. I also assist with other departments such as public affairs and development. I work closely with the [three] health centers [in Las Vegas ] to try to assist the education participants to access reproductive health care.
Why did you want to work at PPSN?
When I was in high school many of my friends and I made really bad choices about our sexual health and we didn’t have anyone to go to for help. After I graduated college with a degree in Journalism and realized that I wasn’t interested in Journalism, I took a hard look at what really interested me. I was finally honest with myself and went back to school and got a Master’s in Health Science Education, focusing all of my research and studies on adolescent sexuality. I was determined to become the person I never found as a teenager. I feel pretty successful at that since all over town I’m now known as “the sex ed lady.” It makes me very proud. The teenage version of me would have loved the adult version of me.
Have you worked at other organizations like PPSN before?
I haven’t. I knew in grad school that I wanted to work in the education department at PP but the economy was bad in 1995 when I finished my master’s and I had a hard time finding a job. I had relocated to Atlanta and took a job as a corporate paralegal. Anyone who knows me now would laugh out loud picturing me in a stuffy law firm, but I did it for three years.
Do you have any personal history with PPSN? Did you ever use their services or know someone who did?
I didn’t before I started working here. I remember that when I was a teen, I was aware of some sort of controversy about PP but I didn’t know why. I asked my mom if PP was good or bad. She said that she didn’t think it was a bad organization but she didn’t seem to know a lot about it either. I remember her being very neutral but not super informative. I relied on a different women’s health care center in college, down the street from PP, in my college town simply because that is where my sister had gone and I just asked her where to get birth control. I wasn’t a client until I became an employee and I haven’t had another provider since I started working here.
Break it down for those who might not know what PPSN offers. What does PPSN do?
PPSN provides exceptional, low-cost reproductive health care to men, women and youth. We provide cancer screenings, pregnancy tests, affordable birth control, STD testing and treatment. We offer medication abortions. We educate men, women and youth about how to stay safe and healthy and make good decisions about their sexual health. We advocate for continued safe and affordable access to reproductive health care. And we do a whole lot more. We provide education for women and girls dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. We participate in community health fairs. We refer patients to other organizations for other needed services. We stand up for reproductive justice. We act as a resource for students in the community looking for information on the state of reproductive access in the country and in Nevada . We advocate for the safe access to abortion services. We advocate for comprehensive, medically accurate, age appropriate sex education. We’re here.
What role do you think PPSN plays in our community? And do you know of any other organization that plays a similar role? Why does our community need PPSN?
PP is a safe haven for confidential, affordable, quality health care to our community’s residents as well as tourists. We are a safety net provider for those without insurance and those who are underinsured. We are a familiar and trusted provider for people who have moved here from other parts of the country. We are a community partner in education, health care and advocacy. I know other organizations that rally for justice and for quality affordable health care services. I think we are somewhat unique in our approach to preventing both unintended pregnancies and STDs. Other organizations might focus on one or the other, but we offer a full spectrum of education, health care and advocacy services. Our community needs PP because we are a voice for choice, because we provide basic health care to 38,000 people in the Valley every year, and because we educate our young people about how to be safe and healthy consistently.
What impact do antichoice attacks have on your work at PPSN? What impact do they have on you personally?
Antichoice attacks hinder my work as an educator. Focusing on the 3% of what we do that is abortion-related takes away and distracts from the 97% of what we do that is preventive. PP does more than any other organization to prevent the need for abortion. Antichoice rhetoric needlessly confuses and scares people away from seeking healthcare and services and education that could save their lives. It makes it harder to provide good education to young people so that they can make healthy decisions about their sexual health. Personally they frustrate me because the idea of choice is just that – each person gets to choose for him or herself what they want to do with their own body. I don’t understand why people think they have the right to impose their beliefs on anyone else. I don’t try to do that to them so I wish they would just do the same. I feel like the antichoice propaganda in the past 15 years or so has created a culture of young people who think that abortion is the worst sin or crime on the planet. I find it far more troubling when I read news stories about a 17-year old mother who [abandons her baby]. Clearly she wasn’t equipped to parent so perhaps she might have chosen differently if the antichoice rhetoric hadn’t convinced her that abortion was such a horrible thing. Parenting is a serious responsibility and needs to be taken seriously. Parenting is an active verb, not a state of being – meaning just because one has created a child doesn’t make them a parent. Parenting makes people a parent.
What have you learned while working at PPSN?
I’ve learned so many things here. I’ve learned that young people are starving for reliable, honest information. I’ve learned that our community has interesting values when it comes to this issue. It seems like we don’t place a whole lot of value on education or on prevention and we don’t seem to learn quickly or easily from our mistakes. I’ve learned that I never get tired of watching a kid’s eyes light up when they learn something about sexuality. I’ve learned a lot about non-profit management and operations. I’ve learned that we have a dedicated core of people in the non-profit who genuinely care about young people and work tirelessly to protect and serve them. I’ve learned that the fight is not over for choice or for logic or reason. On a personal level, I’ve learned that people really do value social services once they get to hear the stories on a personal level.
How has the War on Women (according to the Guttmacher Institute more than 900 measures and more than 600 bills designed to restrict access to abortions have been introduced in 49 states this spring) effected funding for PPSN?
We are always combating people trying to shut down PP. The War on Women has made our clients nervous about their continued health care. It has also raised awareness of the mission and has mobilized at least 1,000,000 people to stand up for PP. We know the fight is not over, just postponed. We must remain vigilant against those who want to shut us down and send clear, simple messages about how shutting down PP will hurt not just us, but our community and our country.
What will happen if PPSN is forced to close its doors at its three Las Vegas clinics?
[If that happens then] 38,000 people would lose their health care. Unintended pregnancies, and therefore abortions, would increase. STDs would increase. Cancer will go undetected. Families will suffer. Period.
Inspired by this conversation? Donate to PPSN today! (And please designate your donation is in honor of The Sin City Siren.)