For Mainers Visiting Planned Parenthood Clinic, It's About More Than Abortion

Sep 29, 2015

PORTLAND, Maine — Planned Parenthood continues to be in the national spotlight for secretly taped videos that allegedly show the nonprofit illegally profiting from the sale of fetal tissue.

Though Planned Parenthood denies the allegations and says the videos are heavily edited, some members of Congress want to defund the organization.

Abortion is at the core of the issue, but that service is just one of many the organization provides.

You could call Lindsey Perry a Planned Parenthood groupie. Ever since she first went to one of their clinics for birth control 15 years ago, she has sought them out for her health care no matter where she lives. Her loyalty is due, in part, to their detection of a precancerous condition seven years ago.

"I was diagnosed with something that was potentially very life-threatening," she says. "It wasn't necessarily the cause of any sexually transmitted disease, it was just something naturally occurring in my body — genetics, whatever. Planned Parenthood caught that."

After a few surgeries, Perry got a clean bill of health.

"This is my one year visit back after my clean bill of health, so we're making sure that's still the case," she says. "So a little bit of a success story and that's really exciting for me."

Most of Planned Parenthood's services — according to its annual report — are for annual exams, birth control, tests for sexually transmitted infections and treatment for conditions such as urinary tract infections. Abortion accounts for three percent of its services.

Stephanie Small
Credit Patty Wight / MPBN

In Portland, abortion is offered one day of the six days that the health center is open. The rest of the time, nurse practitioner Stephanie Small says it's pretty mundane care, though it can affect patients in a profound way.

"With a urinary tract infections, we can give them an antibiotic and it goes away," she says. "I can put in an IUD and know they won't have to worry about an unplanned pregnancy for 12 years. It's a very clear cause and effect and the impact that we see, and that's what's kept me here."

The diversity of patients is also what has kept Small at Planned Parenthood — providing care to those with insurance and those without, to patients young and old, women and men.

Frank Dellasalla is at the health center to get blood tests. He's an amateur mixed martial arts fighter and the tests are a requirement for his job. Dellasala has insurance, and says he goes to Planned Parenthood for philosophical reasons.

"I'm just a huge proponent of Planned Parenthood in general," he says. "What they do for women, and what they do for anyone. The sliding scale based on income, and just providing help to people that might not have other means of getting it."

Planned Parenthood serves about 10,000 Maine patients annually, and half receive care on a sliding fee scale or for free.

Health care associate Laura Gottshall says working at the front desk, she sees firsthand how appreciative patients are when they can access services such as intrauterine devices, or IUDs, considered one of the most effective methods to prevent unintended pregnancies.

"It can get very expensive," she says. "For example, a little over $1,000 to have an IUD inserted. If somebody has little or no income, we could provide that for them at full cost. Meaning, we could ask them for a donation, and if they're not able to, we can provide it to them free of cost."

It was affordability that drove Stephanie — a patient who doesn't want to use her last name — to Planned Parenthood initially. She's at the health center to get birth control.

"Years back when I didn't even have health insurance, they always offered a sliding scale," she says. "It's a really comfortable environment. I've always had positive experiences with everyone involved, from the front desk to the doctors."

That's why Stephanie still comes to Planned Parenthood for reproductive health care, even though she now has insurance and a primary care doctor.

Health care associate Erin McGuigan says it's Planned Parenthood's nonjudgmental approach to sexual health care that sets it apart from other health providers.

"The patients, I think, feel a lot more comfortable here than other places because they're able to be really open and talk about their problems and not feel awkward about it," she says.

That's why McGuigan and others at the health center are frustrated that some members of Congress want to defund Planned Parenthood over the secretly recorded videos.

Maine does not have a fetal tissue donation program, and federal funding does not cover abortion except in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment.

Small says the people who want to defund Planned Parenthood should be the organization's biggest proponents.

"It is fine if you are against abortion, but if you are against abortion, then you have to be for Planned Parenthood because we are doing far more to prevent abortion than any politician or any protester," she says.

If funding is eliminated, Small says, uninsured and underinsured women will lose access to birth control, and to all the other health services that Planned Parenthood provides.