Planned Parenthood Gift Certificates? A new Planned Parenthood initiative aimed at providing discounted health care during tough economic times is drawing both praise and criticism. Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, explains the idea behind the organization's gift certificates and why they are not concerned with critics.
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Planned Parenthood Gift Certificates?

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Planned Parenthood Gift Certificates?

Planned Parenthood Gift Certificates?

Planned Parenthood Gift Certificates?

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A new Planned Parenthood initiative aimed at providing discounted health care during tough economic times is drawing both praise and criticism. Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, explains the idea behind the organization's gift certificates and why they are not concerned with critics.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

This is Tell Me More from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. Just ahead, Superman, Batman, Captain Goodwill. A comic-book writing team hopes their hero will soon be as famous as those other guys. We'll hear about how they're working toward that dream despite some rather steep odds. That story is coming up.

But first, it's the season of giving. But as the economy worsens, some families are deciding not to exchange gifts or are asking for practical gifts instead of more luxurious items. That's why, its executives say, Indiana's Planned Parenthood organization decided to offer gift certificates for use at its clinics, certificates that can be used for any services offered by the clinics, including abortions. And that in fact has outraged some critics, who call the gesture at best tasteless and deliberately provocative. So, we called Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America to talk about this. Welcome, Ms. Richards. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

Ms. CECILE RICHARDS (President, Planned Parenthood Federation of America): Sure, Michel. Good to see you.

MARTIN: How did this idea come about? Do you know?

Ms. RICHARDS: Planned Parenthood is always looking for ways to provide preventative health-care services to women, and particularly now that the economy is in such an incredible downturn. You know, women are always the first to really make sacrifices for their families and oftentimes, this means ignoring their own health-care needs. So we thought gift certificates were a good way to provide financially strapped women an opportunity to get affordable family planning and other services.

MARTIN: What kinds of preventative health-care services does Planned Parenthood offer?

Ms. RICHARDS: Well, you know, 97 percent of our services are preventative. We, you know, probably see almost 3 million women a year for birth control. We do cervical-cancer screenings, breast-cancer screenings and you know, depending on the affiliate, other services as well. So, it is a perfect gift for women who need family planning services and may be cutting back on their health-care spending.

MARTIN: What do you make of the reaction that you've gotten to this? Many of them who are - actively oppose abortion rights, they're activists in this area, have spoken out in the media. They call the idea disgusting, offensive. What do you make of that?

Ms. RICHARDS: Well, first, actually, that's sort of interesting because, you know, the Indiana State Health Commissioner, Dr. Judy Monroe, praised this idea in an AP article, saying it was a really meaningful gift. And I think that, actually, the folks that oppose this kind of thing - actually, it's stunning that, in this day and time, there are still people that oppose birth control, and oppose women getting family planning services. But what I see is, you know, we see 3 million women a year. There are another 10 million women in America who don't have access to affordable family planning. And that's their - for many women, that's their basic health-care need. So, I think that actually, this is a great idea. And I think it's something that can actually help women, particularly, who are strapped for - economically, right now.

MARTIN: There are those who would argue that - and I was looking at some of the reaction that was sent in to the media organizations, like people were responding to the news stories. But some were saying it isn't the preventative health-care services that they object to, it's the idea that the certificates could also be used for abortion. They think that sends a wrong message.

Ms. RICHARDS: Well, I mean, I think that's pretty unlikely, but they could be. I think that, again, the point is 97 percent of what we do is provide family planning and preventative health-care services. You know, one in four women in America has been to Planned Parenthood at some point in her lifetime. We are a vital provider in every single state in America. And I think this is - the idea here is to make sure that women can get the health care that they need, particularly to prevent an unintended pregnancy when at all possible. That's the bulk of what our work is about.

MARTIN: Obviously, where you stand on this depends on where you sit. Another person wrote in to one of the news organizations to say look, if you give somebody a gift certificate to Wal-Mart, they could use it to buy a gun, which is legal but to some people, offensive. So, what's the difference? But others would say, are you at all concerned that regardless of your intentions, that this is just inflammatory? Because one of the things you've said is that one of things you want your presidency to stand for, presidency of Planned Parenthood to stand for, is to try to kind of move off the stalemate on the abortion issue?

Ms. RICHARDS: Well, sure. I mean, look, our goal at Planned Parenthood is to provide affordable, quality health care to every woman who needs it in America. And again, because the bulk of the work that we do is really to help women plan their families, and to provide other vital preventative health -care services - particularly of cancer screening, which is continuing to expand. As women lose their health insurance, they lose affordable options. Planned Parenthood wants to be there for them.

MARTIN: Has anyone actually bought any of these gift certificates, to your knowledge?

Ms. RICHARDS: I think they have, yeah. I actually think they've been pretty popular there in Indiana. And again, I think, you know, we do these kinds of things all year round, finding ways to provide more women - particularly women who don't have access currently to affordable health care - ways to come to a Planned Parenthood clinic. And let them know that we're there for them.

MARTIN: Are these gift certificates being sold anywhere outside of Indiana?

Ms. RICHARDS: You know, I don't know that any other affiliate has done this. This is, sort of, something that happened locally. So, I don't know of any other affiliates right now that are selling gift certificates.

MARTIN: What do you make of the reaction that you've gotten? Do you think that it's a sincere objection to what some consider to be a message, which in their view, according to their values, is at odds with the - the kind of the message of the Christmas season?

Ms. RICHARDS: I don't think it has anything to do with that. Honestly, Michel, I think that there are folks out there who oppose Planned Parenthood every single day. And they're always looking for opportunities to do something. I always say, you know, to the folks in this - the anti-choice community. If they really cared about reducing unintended pregnancy and the need for abortion, they should link arms with Planned Parenthood. Because there's no organization in America that does more to help women plan their families and prevent unintended pregnancies than Planned Parenthood.

MARTIN: And I think, obviously, this is a situation where people would want to speak for themselves. But I think that others would argue that this is part of what they feel, a coarsening of the culture, of the - when you can modify something like abortion, then it just makes it easier to obtain. And it's the kind of thing that cheapens the respect that we have for life. That would be, I think, the argument on the other side. What would you say to that?

Ms. RICHARDS: Well, I think the point is health care in this country is increasingly unaffordable and unavailable to millions of American women. We have the highest unintended pregnancy rate of any western industrialized country. We have a teen pregnancy rate that's rising and teen birth rate that's rising. If we could just do more as a country to help women take care of their health-care needs, frankly, we could prevent a lot of unintended pregnancy and the need for abortion. And I think that's really what Planned Parenthood is about. And really, one in four women in America has come to Planned Parenthood in her lifetime.

MARTIN: How do you know this?

Ms. RICHARDS: Well, because we count the numbers every year. And in fact, every year, the number of women we see that are low income, that don't have other health-care options, continues to grow. We are a critical safety-net provider and in every state. It's - red states and in blue. Women - reproductive health care is a basic health-care need for women and where - our goal is to make sure that it's affordable and available to any woman anywhere in the country.

MARTIN: And, just again for clarification...

Ms. RICHARDS: Mmm-hmm.

MARTIN: The vast majority of services people get from Planned Parenthood are what?

Ms. RICHARDS: Preventative services. I mean, 97 percent of the work we do is preventative care.

MARTIN: Routine gynecological exams.

Ms. RICHARDS: Exactly, and you know...

MARTIN: Pap smears.

Ms. RICHARDS: Pap smears. We do a lot of breast exams now. In some places, we're able to do now prenatal care, well-women check-ups. You know, we try to be there for women's primary health-care needs. And increasingly there are women who come to Planned Parenthood, and we're their only doctor, maybe the only medical visit, they get a year. And that's really why, again, the idea of something like a gift certificate is just making sure that women are taking care of their health-care needs, even in a time of real economic downturn.

MARTIN: Cecile Richards is the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and she joined us from our bureau in New York. Ms. Richards, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Ms. RICHARDS: Thanks, Michel. Happy holidays.

MARTIN: Remember, at Tell Me More, the conversation never ends. Now, you just heard from Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards. Now, we'd like to hear from you. We'd like to know, what's your reaction to the organization's idea to offer gift certificates for its health-care services? Is this a reasonable gesture during tough economic times? Simply the wrong message from a group that's frequently under fire? To tell us more and to compare notes with other listeners, please go to our Web site, the Tell Me More page at npr.org. You can also call our comment line at 202-842-3522. Again, that's 202-842-3522. And please remember to tell us your name and where you're from.

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