Planned Parenthood has been in the news a lot this year so far. Last summer, controversial videos surfaced which showed, according to Vox, “Planned Parenthood [employees] discussing how the organization provides fetal organs and tissues to researches. The emergence of these videos resulted in backlash, both from the right and left side of the abortion debate, and the issue made it all the way to Congress. Since then, though the Senate voted against defunding the organization, some states have stripped Planned Parenthood of federal funding.
In February, Governor Kasich signed a bill into law that would defund Planned Parenthood and any other clinics that perform or promote abortions in the state of Ohio. Advocates for the health organization held protests and took to social media to voice their dissent. Still, many from the anti-abortion crowd supported Kasich’s decision, and those who stand against Planned Parenthood have made their voices heard as well. Some have even gone as far as to vandalize or set fire to clinics across the nation, from California to St. Louis and, recently, Columbus.
Students both for and against abortion have utilised #plannedparenthood and #istandwithpp in recent months, but how many students know what services Planned Parenthood really provides? The Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio (PPGO) serves 68 of the 88 counties in the state, according to Marketing and Communications Director for PPGO Nicole Evans. The Athens location offers “a whole gambit of services,” Evans said over the phone, and the clinic is staffed with doctors and medical professionals who meet with all kinds of patients on an individual basis to talk about their own reproductive health. There is even a student organization, Generation Action, that works with the center to spread awareness on campus.
“We work really closely with them, we have advocates in Columbus and in Athens, and we help fundraise,” said junior and OU Generation Action president Cecilia Ellis. “They give us condoms and swag to give out to students on campus to spread awareness about safe sex, as well as all the services that Planned Parenthood provides for men, women, transgender individuals—just so people are informed.” Here are a few things you should know about the Planned Parenthood here in Athens.
It’s not an abortion clinic
The Athens Health Center does not offer abortion procedures—though, upon request, they can refer patients to other clinics that do—but does offer a number of health services, including testing and treatment for Urinary Tract Infections. “It’s annual exams, it’s birth control … they’ve got everything,” Evans said. Cecilia Ellis agreed that STI testing and birth control are two crucial services that Planned Parenthoods nationwide offer men and women. “You can go in and talk about the different kinds of birth control; there’s the pill but there’s also all these alternate methods,” said Ellis. The OU junior said the clinic offers tons of information. “It’s also, like, a health clinic. So, you can just go in for, like, regular gynecological checkups or anything. Basically, anything you can go to the doctor for you can also go to Planned Parenthood for.” For a full list of services the Athens Health Center offers, click here.
It’s not that far away
The Athens Health Center is located at 1005 E State St, which is a two-hour walk from Chubb, but “it’s easy to get to,” according to Evans, and she’s right. The Athens Public Transit (APT) has a route that goes all the way down State Street to the Super 8 motel which, for those who don’t know, is pretty far from campus. Today, students can pay $1 to ride any APT bus and starting in July, all staff and students will be allowed to ride for free with their OU ID card.
All are welcome
“We service men and women. About 50% of our patients are men at the Athens Health Center,” Evans said. Although the center is not a free clinic, it is a space where students can go and find free condoms and lots of information. The clinic offers services to people of all genders and sexual orientation. “We really work with all our patients no matter where they are,” which includes people of varying economic statuses and education levels, Evans said. The clinic accepts a number of insurance providers as well, and even has a payment plan for qualified low-income individuals, so patients have access to “a myriad of services” from cancer screenings to testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. According to Evans, the Athens Health Center is a place where patients receive high quality care at low affordability, as well as a safe space. “We make it convenient for students to come,” Evans said. “And bring friends, bring a partner, bring whoever.”
It’s easy to get involved
Generation Action is the student organization on campus that advocates for planned parenthood. “[The organization] has been on campus, long before I got here,” said Ellis who got involved with the group two years ago as a freshman, “but it’s always been kind of small and under the radar. We’ve grown so much over the last year and with all the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood, it’s been something that’s on people’s minds a lot and we’ve just naturally taken advantage of that.” On the cloudy Monday evening of April 11th, members of OU Generation Action were stationed outside of Baker Center signing people up for free STI tests.
“Every year, we have this event called Get Yourself Tested [GYT],” Ellis said. This was only the second year the group has held the event, but already GYT has grown considerably. “We have a health official here actually conducting the tests and helping people through the paperwork, tons of free condoms, cookies and tons of swag.” April is National Get Yourself Tested month, and the group’s first event just last year was a slow start to a promising tradition. “Last year we tested nine people in four hours and this year we’ve tested 40,” Ellis said. “We’ve done some hard core promotion in the last month and it’s been incredible!”
— FEM (@FEM_OHIO) April 7, 2016
In the middle of her interview, Ellis turned her attention to a smiling woman in dark blue scrubs.
“We are out of tests!” the healthcare official from Planned Parenthood said.
“OH MY GOD! CAN I HUG YOU??” Ellis squealed, jumping out of her folding chair to double-high-five the nurse. It was 5:47pm, just three minutes before the end of their event.
“You all are amazing,” the nurse said. “Last year we did ten [tests], and then this year—”
She was cut off by unintelligible squeals, but they’d tested 45 people, more than four times the amount of last year’s event. The students really were passionate about their cause. “A big tip I would offer to freshmen is to get tested at least every six months, and not to be afraid of the results,” said Junior and group member Kayla Meader. “It’s always safer to know [you’re healthy] then to go on living without the knowledge.”
The group members stood in a circle, put their hands in, cheered “Generation action!” as they rose their arms, then settled into an energetic group hug.
“There’s a lot of support on campus for us,” Ellis said when she returned to her seat. “It’s really inspiring and heart-warming to see how much support there really is. [Sexual and reproductive health] is definitely something people are paying attention to right now which is great for the club because people are showing up to events like this.”