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The good they do: Planned Parenthood 

This is a true story about Planned Parenthood. More than 20 years ago, when my wife became pregnant, we were jolted into a realization of what unplanned parenthood was all about. Our thoughts about having children were too vague to really be called plans, but suddenly, there we were with a big, important choice to make. Long story short, we talked with one of Planned Parenthood's counselors, who made us realize that we really did want to have a baby. She was right, our first child was born eight months later, and the rest is family history.

That's probably not the kind of Planned Parenthood story you've heard much lately. Not since the "religious right" shifted its "Demonize Planned Parenthood" campaign into high gear, as part of its efforts to defund the family-planning/women's-health organization. Congressional Republicans, bowing to pressure from their anti-choice supporters, threatened to shut down the federal government last month over Planned Parenthood funding, but failed. That setback, however, only served to ratchet up the right's efforts in Republican-controlled states, including North Carolina, where bills have been introduced to take all taxpayer money from PP.

Before we go any further, a couple of simple facts need to be noted, facts that are often forgotten in the general abortion debate uproar. First, a reminder: Abortion is legal in the United States. Let me say that again: Abortion is legal in the United States. That is hard to remember at times, when there's so much irrational squawking and fantastical lies circulating from the right about PP (including "firsthand accounts" of how PP gives out defective condoms in order to drive up their "abortion business"). The second fact is that, by law, federal money cannot be used to fund abortions. So in other words, the anti-Planned Parenthood people want to defund the group because they don't like one of the services PP renders — even though it's not a service that receives federal money to begin with.

Contrary to what many anti-choice groups claim, Planned Parenthood only spends 3 percent of its budget on abortion services, while using 16 percent for cancer screening and prevention, as well as 35 percent each for contraception and for the testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.

In North Carolina, the GOP wants to ban all state contracts with Planned Parenthood, which currently cost the state $473,000 per year for family planning and teen pregnancy prevention. House Speaker Thom Tillis recently told The Charlotte Observer, "I know we need to make sure that services beyond abortion are supported, through PP or an alternative provider (and there are options)." Tillis' inclusion of PP in that statement is pure B.S., since the whole point of the bill is to ban PP's state contracts; hopefully this was a verbal misstep for Tillis, and he doesn't think we're all that stupid. Tillis' mention of "alternative providers," however, indicates he's OK with North Carolina following the lead of Texas, where the GOP-controlled House shifted former family planning money to "crisis pregnancy centers," or CPCs.

The problem is that CPCs are, to be blunt, little more than fake medical clinics, usually set up by anti-abortion and/or religious groups. These groups are deceptive and harmful and certainly shouldn't get our tax money. The usual CPC tactics are to advertise free pregnancy tests, then flood the women who show up with anti-abortion and religious counseling. Many CPC workers have been documented giving women misleading or outright false information in order to keep them from having an abortion. Some of the CPCs even give ultrasounds to pregnant women, although their "nurses" are unqualified to interpret them or give sound medical advice. In other words, these groups are just fronts for anti-abortion activists, period. If Tillis and his cohorts in the General Assembly shift money from Planned Parenthood to CPCs, they will, in a very real way, degrade women's health services in the state. If that happens, fully expect a very large pile of crap to hit the fan in Raleigh, and deservedly so.

The main issue here is women's reproductive health, and women's ease of access to contraception, pregnancy testing, education, cancer screening, prenatal services and, if the woman chooses, abortion services. I, and millions of others, know from personal experience that Planned Parenthood does good, necessary work. Don't let the backward-looking forces that are now in charge in Raleigh take that away.

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