Don’t Take Away My Breast Exams

One young Reno woman furiously wrote a letter to her senator. Another had her photo taken with a large pink sign, “I stand with Planned Parenthood.” She planned to post this to her Facebook profile.

Jenna Fox, 22, called Sen. John Ensign’s office in Washington. Fox stated her case—please don’t cut federal funding for family planning services. The person answering the phone promised to pass her message along to Ensign.

“I think that’s their way of saying, ‘We heard you, but we’re going to ignore you,’” Fox said.

Frosted cupcakes sat untouched on a table. The mood at a gathering of college-aged women last week was angsty.

In mid-February, the U.S. House of Representatives voted on a budget reduction package that eliminated a $317 million program, Title X. The program provides family planning services for low-income women. The Guttmacher Institute calculates that 4.7 million Americans receive health care from clinics funded by Title X. Planned Parenthood receives around $75 million in Title X funds.

Compared with the size of the federal budget ($3.83 trillion requested for 2011), $75 million is pocket change. The U.S. military spends around $700 billion a year. The Economist reports that this is as much as “the world’s next 20 highest military spenders combined.” One Lockheed-Martin F-22 Raptor fighter—never used in battle anywhere—costs $140 million. (Last year, the U.S. military stopped ordering more of the aircrafts, leaving the U.S. military with fewer than 200.)

For a fraction of the cost of a single extraneous stealth fighter, Planned Parenthood Mar Monte annually sees more than 250,000 women, men and children in central California and Northern Nevada, providing birth control, pregnancy testing and options counseling, STD testing and treatment, HIV testing, breast and cervical cancer screening, sterilization, prenatal care, pediatrics and adult primary health care.

“I feel passionate about this,” said Ashley Hennefer, 22, who organized the letter-writing event March 2. “We have to get our voices out.”

Hennefer brought signs, “Students Stand for Choice” and “Don’t Take Away My Breast Exams” that she’d picked up at the Planned Parenthood office on Fifth Street in Reno. The waiting room had been packed with women and men. Though opponents characterize Planned Parenthood as an abortion provider, the Reno clinic does not do abortions.

Caitlin Thomas, 22, grew up in North Tahoe, with a Planned Parenthood office not far from home. She first visited the office when she was 15. She didn’t want to go to her family doctor.

“Planned Parenthood has always been there for me,” Thomas said. “There was safety there and someone to talk to.”

While in high school, Thomas turned to Planned Parenthood for help when a friend was raped. Her friend received counseling and testing for pregnancy and STDs.

“It was comforting,” Thomas said.

Making cuts to such a tiny and influential program is not about fiscal responsibility. It’s a political candy toss to those pro-lifers who voted for the new Republican representatives. Though the Title X cut was taken out of an emergency stop-gap budget measure passed March 2, it will likely come before the U.S. Senate soon.

Carolina Chacon, 22, has written to and called Ensign and U.S. Rep. Dean Heller. Chacon recalled the wording of a response she received.

“Most ‘conscientious taxpayers’ disagree that abortions should be federally funded,” Chacon quoted sardonically. The misconception is frustrating.

“Abortion is already not federally funded,” Hennefer said. “So it’s a moot point.”

When Chacon wrote her first letter to Heller, she realized that she’d become overly emotional.

“I had to go back and edit out my anger,” she said.

It’s important, Hennefer advised, to write useful letters.

“Be professional and respectful, so we’re taken seriously,” she said.