Recently, my husband and I had an opportunity to listen to words of wisdom from Olympia Snowe, former Republican from Maine. Before retiring from politics in 2013, Snowe received an award from Forbes as the 54th most powerful woman in the world. Time magazine named her “The Caregiver” because of her work beyond partisan politics. I felt touched and inspired by remarks, which she shared at the Austin Annual Dinner for Planned Parenthood.
To many, Planned Parenthood brings up one thought: abortion. I totally understand resistance to abortion. I “get” it. However, I do not understand total rejection of all the good that Planned Parenthood delivers to women living in poverty. Abortions account for 3% of the services provided at PP. Most of the work includes: cervical tests for cancer, mammograms, family planning, prenatal care, and contraceptives. When we close Planned Parenthood centers, we throw the baby out with the bath. This particularly baffles me since federal money does not pay for abortions.
Women lacking financial resources rely on Planned Parenthood for basic health care. From the perspective of my comfortable life, I find it difficult to imagine having few or no options. I live in a safe location. According to Snowe, rapes occur four times more often in poor neighborhoods. Last year, Planned Parenthood clinics avoided 516,000 pregnancies. We can easily imagine that by preventing pregnancies, the clinics also avoided 516,000 abortion requests.
Most of my life focused on child advocacy. Through the years, I occasionally witnessed children whose parents did not want them and could not care for them. I believe most parents love their children. Most parents, even abusive ones, want to care for their children. Sometimes, parents simply cannot do so. When parents cannot cope, their children’s lives include a preponderance of pain and suffering. Forcing a woman to carry a pregnancy to birth may result in less than loving circumstances. Do we sometimes create hell on earth for a new life?
I grew up in a family that believed in a right or wrong world. Nothing in between existed. While in college, I took a course called Situation Ethics. For the first time, I began to comprehend that issues often spill into baffling shades of gray. The course changed my life. Today, I cannot look any woman in the eye and tell her what she should do. Sometimes, people get caught in having to choose between two objectionable possibilities.
Snowe described a more gentle time when legislators worked together to prevent abortions. They focused on family planning, a topic on which all could agree. Today, I ask pro-choice and pro-life advocates to unite behind helping families eliminate abortions by preventing unwanted pregnancies.
I believe in education grounded in facts and reality as well as ideals. While abstinence provides the finest choice, we need to be honest enough to tell the truth. Many young people, and even married couples will not be able to abstain. That means, in addition to advocating abstinence, we need to teach alternative ways to prevent pregnancies. Truth does not always fit our idealistic desires.
One certainty remains evident. The split paths we now follow continue to bring intolerable results. With our current divisions, everyone suffers. Everyone loses. In closing, Snowe called on all of us to “transcend” our differences in order to take the best action for the country and to solve problems. We do not need to demonize one another. Even lacking agreement on abortions, we can support Planned Parenthood in its work to provide basic health care for those who need it the most.
Robertson, Lori and M. Morse. “Planned Parenthood.” Fact Check.Org. April 18, 2011.
Snowe, Olympia. Planned Parenthood Annual Dinner. Austin, Texas, Oct. 18, 2015.