Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile RIchards speaks at the Democratic National Convention on Sept. 5, 2012. (Photo: Getty …This year, Planned Parenthood has faced plenty of controversy. The Susan G. Komen Foundation's decision in February to defund -- and then refund -- a grant to fund breast cancer screenings at the womens' health clinics led Planned Parenthood to launch its own breast health initiative in August.
"Breast health has long been a core part of the care we do," Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards told Yahoo! Shine in an interview. "This new initiative is really trying to tackle the biggest barriers to women getting breast exams and breast care. One is cost, the other is fear. I think there are too many women who are afraid of what they might find and don't get screenings early enough."
The Republican push to defund Planned Parenthood puts their preventative health programs at risk, Richards says.
"Two years ago, when John Boehner, Paul Ryan, Todd Akin and the Tea Party took control of the House of Representatives, they promised to create jobs and jump-start the economy," Richards pointed out at the Democratic National Convention on Wednesday. "But, instead, on day one, they came after women's health. And they haven't let up since. They voted to end cancer screenings and well-woman visits for five million women, end funding for birth control at Planned Parenthood, and for good measure, they even tried to redefine rape. And now, Mitt Romney is campaigning to get rid of Planned Parenthood and overturn Roe v. Wade. This year women learned that if we aren't at the table, we're on the menu."
Birth control was illegal when Planned Parenthood was founded nearly a century ago. "And as a result, few women had the opportunity to finish school," Richards said in her convention speech. "We weren't even expected to live past the age 50. Times have changed. Today, we are mothers, and we are teachers and scientists and accountants and members of the armed forces."
Richards, who is also the president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the organization's non-partisan advocacy and political arm, spoke to Yahoo! Shine a few days before the convention.
Yahoo! Shine: What's your reaction to the comments made by Rep. Todd Akin, on "legitimate rape" and how a woman's body can "shut things down"?
I think Congressmen Akin's comments are appalling… I also think, though, that he's just a small example of what's been happening in Congress this year. His position and the votes he's taken echo Paul Ryan… and this is why women are so disturbed around the country. To see politics being used to prevent women from getting access to health care, I think it's a danger.
Q: Are you surprised that abortion, birth control, and women's health is still a major political issue in 2012?
A: It's extraordinary that in the 21st century that we have a debate about this in this country, and we have a Congress that's trying to overturn not only Roe v. Wade but a presidential ticket that's dedicated to overturning Roe v. Wade. The fact that it's a debate in the 21st century is astounding.
Q: Planned Parenthood has seen plenty of controversy recently. Yet membership and fundraising is up. Will fundraising be enough to sustain Planned Parenthood if the GOP wins the White House?
A: Well, Planned Parenthood has been around for 96 years, and we're not going anywhere. I do think we have been really encouraged by the outpouring of support for the organization. We gained 1.5 million new supporters this year. I think the real concern is if we end all public support for family planning, which is what Romney has promised to do, not just for Planned Parenthood but across the country. Millions of people would lose access to preventative health care around the country.
Q: But the thing they're trying to prevent is abortion services, not preventative health care, right?
A: We provide comprehensive women's health care. That includes abortion services, but also preventive care, that includes birth control STD testing and treatment, breast health, adoption referrals, and the like. More than 90 percent of services we provided last year were preventative in nature. Many women come to us as the only doctor's visit they will have. We also believe, though, that having access to safe and legal abortion is an important part of women's health. As the largest provider of family planning in this country, the more that we help women in the front end, with affordable birth control, the more we can prevent unwanted pregnancies.
Q: Why do you think access to birth control is considered a women's issue when it obviously affects both men and women?
A: We've seen an outpouring of young men in particular who have a vested interest in birth control as well. Many have been coming in to Planned Parenthood with their partners for birth control. I do believe in the 21st century that birth control is an issue that affects and improves lives of women and men, and that I think is the hope for the future.
Q: You have a strong relationship with the Obama administration. Has Planned Parenthood ever had similar relationships with a GOP-led administration?
A: There were certainly things we worked on together. They were not as supportive, but at least they were supportive of family planning. It's incredible that we've moved so far that we have a Republican presidential ticket committed to ending family planning. With the Bush administration, that was not a threat. I fear that with this ticket we're losing ground.
Q: What's next for Planned Parenthood?
A: We're very excited about the opportunity to grow. The Affordable Health Care Act will afford millions of women who are looking for basic women's health care the chance to have preventive health care, and we're looking forward to providing it for them. There's an explosion of access and possibilities because of both the internet and social media -- we get about 3 million patients each year, but online we get 4 million visitors every single month. It's very exciting that this generation will be able to get access to information that's sometimes too hard to find. I think the future has endless potential, and Planned Parenthood and the internet is a perfect match. Confidential, nonjudgemental information and care -- that's been the goal.
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Also on Shine:
Planned Parenthood announces breast health initiative
Susan G. Komen CEO steps down. Will this end the Planned Parenthood controversy?
Sandra Fluke: Women's issues are not just about reproductive rights