In Planned Parenthood Debate, Local Inaccessibility Overlooked

Editorial Board

As House and Senate leaders traverse the caustic battleground that is this year’s federal appropriations bill, it’s evident that the future of Planned Parenthood’s funding has been precarious. But last night marked a possible turn in the road for the reproductive health organization, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell proposed a bipartisan stopgap spending bill that effectively strikes the Planned Parenthood argument from the overall appropriations legislation. It’s expected to clear the Senate, and if it does, it’s smooth sailing for Planned Parenthood — for now.

As with many other targeted spending cuts, the mounting opposition against the organization’s possible defunding has been palpable. Many have publicly voiced their support for Planned Parenthood over the last several weeks, signing petitions or overlaying their Facebook profile photos with a pink “#StandwithPP” speech bubble. Articles have circulated across social media platforms and boots have hit the ground, all in an attempt to spread awareness about the benefits of this organization’s services. If nothing else, the threat of defunding has become a unifying factor.

The outcry is justified. Planned Parenthood provides valuable preventative healthcare, especially to people in low-income families. In 2012, 79 percent of visitors to the center were at 150 percent of the federal poverty level or lower, according to the Government Accountability Office’s March report. Federal funding accounted for more than 40 percent of Planned Parenthood’s revenue in the 2013-2014 fiscal year. Losing that funding could force Planned Parenthood to reduce or eliminate the services it provides to people who need them most.

So let’s just say, theoretically, that McConnell’s last-ditch initiative makes the cut. Let’s say the Senate passes the stopgap spending bill, saving the government from yet another possible shutdown. Let’s assume that, in this scenario, Planned Parenthood’s funding is here to stay. But let’s also ask, “What happens next?”

This question essentially answers itself when we look at past examples. Such a victory would certainly appease the majority of those in favor of the organization. The Facebook hashtags would gradually subside, unfinished petitions would find their way into garbage cans and, as time went on, the threats to Planned Parenthood’s funding would slowly leave mouths and minds.

Of course, there would still be those who refuse to give up the fight. Community leaders, reproductive justice activists and others would work to ensure not only that Planned Parenthood’s funding and operations stay secure but that their services expand to cover a broader client base. However, history tells us that the majority of those currently speaking out against the organization’s defunding will soon forget that their reproductive justice services were ever threatened at all.

At a school that bills itself as a hub for activism and progressivism, it comes as no surprise that many of our Facebook newsfeeds have been flooded with the aforementioned hashtag. However, if we are truly an institution that champions “commitment to social engagement and diversity” as our mission statement claims, it’s critical that we avoid falling into the void of apathy and inaction that inevitably swallows a large number of self-proclaimed activists. Instead, our energies should be focused on advocating intersectional reproductive health services for our own community — something that, as of now, can certainly be improved.

As a rural college town in the Rust Belt, there aren’t many available options for reliable and cheap reproductive health care. The nearest Planned Parenthood is a 22-minute drive from Oberlin, inaccessible to College students and community members without cars or transportation to Lorain. The clinic is only open three days per week — Mondays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m — rendering it virtually unreachable for anyone who can’t afford to skip work. The other clinics aren’t that much better. Lorain Family Planning Services takes 17 minutes to drive to. Preterm, an abortion clinic in Cleveland, is 44 minutes away without traffic. The next closest Planned Parenthood is outside Cleveland in Rocky River, a 31-minute drive away.

This is not to say that the available services don’t do great work. The majority of these clinics work tirelessly to serve those that can access them — it’s just a matter of general inaccessibility and lack of funding. For many Oberlin students, these types of limitations are easy to forget. As individuals with access to myriad sex-ed organizations and reproductive health knowledge — the SIC, HIV Peer Testers, SexCo — our privileges can leave us oblivious to the limitations of the services offered to those who live just blocks from us. But when considering how to best use our voices and positions of power, we should not overlook our own community. Hashtags and phone calls to senators are certainly important, but so is ensuring that our own community members have access to these services when their funding remains secure. Whether it’s advocating for public transportation to the available clinics or raising funds for places like Preterm, the efforts going into voicing support for Planned Parenthood need to translate into community action.