By Max Michael, MD, who lives in Birmingham. He is a member of the Planned Parenthood Southeast Board of Directors.
One hundred years ago this month, Margaret Sanger and a small group of women decided it was time to provide women with the health care and information they needed to plan their families and their futures. At the time it was a revolutionary idea. This idea grew from one clinic in Brooklyn, New York, to approximately 650 health centers across America. This idea became Planned Parenthood.
As a physician, I’ve seen firsthand the critical role that Planned Parenthood plays in Alabama. Planned Parenthood’s Birmingham and Mobile health centers provide services that are essential for good public health, including medically accurate sexual and reproductive health information, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections and HIV, access to all methods of contraception, and access to safe and legal abortion. While access to health care services can be a challenge for many in Alabama, Planned Parenthood health centers stand ready to serve and provide much-needed, nonjudgmental health care services.
Planned Parenthood has become more than just a respected medical service provider. It has become a force for social change. When Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic a century ago, women lined up around the block to get information about how to prevent pregnancy, yet it was illegal for the clinic staff to provide this basic information. Today, the medical community and general public now view access to contraception, sexual and reproductive health information, and safe and legal abortion as vital tools for ensuring good public health. In a large part, this shift is the result of Planned Parenthood’s advocacy.
Planned Parenthood would not be celebrating its 100th anniversary and the victories it has achieved without the tremendous work of its partners in the reproductive health, rights and justice communities. Without these partners, we would not have legalized birth control, ensured the availability of safe and legal abortion, and secured coverage for preventive care and birth control under the Affordable Care Act. Planned Parenthood shares these victories and commits to standing shoulder to shoulder for the next 100 years.
Like many great organizations, Planned Parenthood is not without its flaws. While Planned Parenthood’s founder, Margaret Sanger, was a woman of tremendous achievement, she was also a flawed and imperfect leader. She devoted her life to enabling women to have control over when and whether to have children, yet she also had beliefs, practices and associations that Planned Parenthood acknowledges, denounces and works to redress. Planned Parenthood also recognizes that many factors impact access to health care, including race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, economic status, geography and immigration status. For Planned Parenthood to ensure health care access for all, it must address all of these issues. While Planned Parenthood’s history is as complicated as our nation’s, it is committed to moving forward.
Planned Parenthood may be 100 years old, but it’s just getting started. As it moves into its second century, Planned Parenthood is committed to building a country where everyone has access to the quality health care they need and the ability to raise their family in a safe environment. This means that a patient in Monroeville or Birmingham has the same access to safe, high-quality health care as someone in Houston or Atlanta. It means that transgender patients can access health care without shame or stigma. It means that parents can raise their children in healthy and safe communities. Planned Parenthood will not stop until health care access and safe communities are a reality for all.
While Planned Parenthood has helped to transform reproductive health care and empowered millions of people to make informed health care decisions, one thing has not changed. Every day, patients show up at its health centers, just like they did at that clinic in Brooklyn. And every day, Planned Parenthood doctors, clinicians and staff provide expert, respectful care — no matter what.