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We don’t really have a single organisation comparable to Planned Parenthood in the UK. Many of their services are available on the NHS, and there are various other private organisations doing similar things, but none with quite the same national scope and importance.

They’ve been central to a good deal of American politics lately, though, so it’s probably worth finding out some more details about them. And one good place to start is with debunking some myths.

I’ve never heard of any fundamentalist Christians opposing, say, pap smears. The Vatican still officially refuses to countenance condoms (although they may be sliding on that point, in their anti-progressive way), but it’s less of a hot-button topic. Even the people who take that one seriously are more likely to maintain it as a personal decision, without expecting laws to be passed to enforce their own preference.

The only real controversy is around abortion. This is the one that makes people angry, to the point of violence, murder – and, in the case of some politicians, lying their tits off.

A couple of weeks ago, Republican Senator Jon Kyl bullshitted that “well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does” is abortions. According to people who know what the fuck they’re talking about, it’s actually around 3%.

A spokesman later clarified that the 90% remark was “not intended to be a factual statement“. So, politicians are now confessedly under the impression that lying deliberately is okay if you have some rhetorical point to make.

I’m losing track of whether my main argument here was meant to be pro-choice or anti-state.

The thing is, even though the various other reproductive services offered by organisations like Planned Parenthood aren’t subject to as much vocal opposition, it’s far from clear whether many anti-abortionists are in favour of them.

The advice and preventative care offered by Planned Parenthood has led to hundreds of thousands of cases where the abortion question becomes moot, because no child was conceived to parents who weren’t ready or prepared to bring a new life into the world. Endorsing and funding and encouraging the services which actually make up 90% of Planned Parenthood’s work – such as preventing unwanted pregnancies occurring in the first place, and testing for and treating things like STDs and cancer – would be of huge benefit to the conservatives’ purported goals.

Any competent sexual health advice will include the fact that the only way to be sure of avoiding pregnancy and disease is abstinence. There’s so much that Planned Parenthood do which should be right up anti-abortionists’ street. I mean, who’s against curing cancer?

But all that just tends to get ignored, and the anti-abortion ideology insists on inflating the problem and cracking down on it in the only, blinkered way they know. It’s like the war on drugs all over again.

Tip o’ the hat to Bay of Fundie.

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Project Prevention have been back in the news lately.

I wrote about this organisation before, here and here, and since then my initial reservations have developed into serious concern and outrage. The more their activities continue, the clearer it becomes that the welfare of people is a secondary priority to their ideology. And this ideology amounts to little more than eugenics.

Stuart Sorensen has been at the front line of the efforts to counter what Project Prevention are doing, and his interview on the most recent episode of the Strange Quarks podcast was excellent. If you still think there’s anything positive or compassionate in the way this group bribes drug addicts to be sterilised, you shouldn’t after listening to that.

Short version: There are much better ways than this to help people and children affected by drug problems, which are already being offered by many health services, but Project Prevention doesn’t seem to care.

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The Liberal Conspiracy website has a better-informed and more thorough discussion of Project Prevention than I managed a few days ago. It’s increasingly clear that this is an organisation driven by a specific ideology, which doesn’t care to examine its own workings enough to question whether what it’s doing is really in its clients’ best interests. This line was especially revealing, referring to the organisation’s founder, Barbara Harris:

Harris’ interest isn’t in the long-term outcomes for the women she works with or the areas they live in. There’s no subsequent monitoring programme and no requirement that addicts sign up for treatment – Project Prevention’s involvement with these women begins and ends with their fertility.

The stated “main objective” of Project Prevention is “to reduce the number of substance exposed births to zero”, and their approach with this goal in mind is unhelpfully single-minded. The plight of infants born to substance-addicted mothers is no doubt awful, but Barbara Harris is fixated on this one solution, to the exclusion of an overall picture of providing treatment and care as best they can, based on what people need, whatever that might involve in any specific case.

No doubt a lot of people with drug problems would benefit from some of the forms of contraception and birth control that Project Prevention can provide, but they’re not looking at it in terms of providing the best and most appropriate care for their clients. As far as they’re concerned, the fertility issue is the beginning and the end.

I hadn’t picked up on the issue of the complete lack of aftercare before, but thinking about it now, this is insane. In the substance misuse centre I work at, there are constant discussions about where clients are going to move onto once their treatment with us is complete, whether medication will be prescribed from somewhere else, whether they have support in the community, whether we could look to arranging housing, whether they’re registered with a local mental health or psychological team to follow them up sporadically in the coming weeks and months.

These are all a big and necessary part of treating anyone for drug addiction, but none of it seems to be on Project Prevention’s radar. It kinda seems like it should be, if you’re going to be performing major operations on people with serious addiction problems.

Oh, and the founder of the organisation, Barbara Harris, has made her Twitter feed private, after some people started tweeting questions about her methods at her. Now, there’s no problem with having a private feed, if you only want your personal friends to be able to follow the thoughts you share on there – a lot of people go that way. But it still purports to be Project Prevention’s official feed, so this doesn’t speak well to Barbara’s approach to openness and outreach.

I hope nobody questioning her was hostile or unpleasant, and made her feel like there was no point listening to people simply being obnoxious. But @DrPetra was among those asking sensible questions of Barbara – whether she wouldn’t try integrating with existing services, for instance – and got accused of condoning child abuse for her trouble.

Speaking of Dr Petra, she just tweeted a link to a report that Canada’s teen birth and abortion rates have plummeted following better sex education and wider access to contraception throughout that country. There’s been more than a one-third decline in ten years, as a direct result of doing exactly the opposite of what the abstinence-only puritans say is best. Just thought that was worth a mention too.

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Shock and outrage has ensued following the announcement of something legal being advertised on TV. It’s a neat and understated little ad, and after all the furore I was amazed at how low-key the message is. You can watch it here.

I’m not much interested in reiterating why this is a good thing, and why this subject deserves to be talked about some more. But the usual “Won’t somebody please think of the children?” outcry is as annoying as it was predictable. Personally, I kinda hope nobody did spend much time thinking about the children while making this clip. It’s not for them, it’s not being aired anywhere they’re likely to see it, and even if they do see it they’ll experience nothing that can possibly sully the little bastards’ innocence and purity.

A lot of the objections I’ve read – from people savvy enough to avoid coming across as old-fashioned puritans, and steer clear of saying anything too overtly anti-feminist – is that it’s unnecessary. That there’s enough information out there already about pregnancy terminations, and women just don’t need to be provided with yet more reminders of the options available to them.

To which my first thought is: have you ever seen adverts before? Have you any idea the amount of pointless crap that gets peddled, hawked, and oversold constantly on every commercial channel on the planet? Why does it suddenly bother you now?

And anyway, that’s crap. We’re not nearly at a point where good information about pregnancy-related issues and the availability of safe medical procedures so saturates our culture that anything more would be overdoing it. According to that CiF article, there are over 50,000 “backstreet” abortions a day worldwide, leading to 80,000 deaths per year. And it’s happening as near to home as Northern Ireland. Technically that’s part of the country I live in.

I’ve never been pregnant, partly because I had the good sense to be born into the dominant gender which can delegate all that messy stuff to someone else. But I can get my head around the notion that, if you’ve got yourself one of those baby things fermenting in your ovaries (or however it works), and you’re in the middle of making a nice salad when suddenly you’re overcome by a sharp sensation of abdominal OW OW OW, you might find yourself a little on the fucking scared side.

So having, say, a phoneline that people are aware they can call, to ask questions about exactly this sort of thing, is kind of important. I know I’m not their primary target demographic, but I’d never heard of Marie Stopes International before this ad, so you can’t argue that there’s no room at all for raising awareness.

And honestly, for all the fuss made over it, this is one of the most delicate and innocuous messages about sexual health I’ve ever seen. It’s thirty seconds long. It doesn’t mention abortion once. It shows a few brief shots of some women, who an on-screen caption tells us are all “late”. A voiceover then says:

If you’re late for your period, you could be pregnant. If you’re pregnant and not sure what to do, Marie Stopes International can help.

That’s it.

They’re not telling anyone what they should do. They’re offering to help if you don’t know what to do.

It’s not “advertising abortion”. It’s advertising a sexual and reproductive health service that provides advice and safe medical options to those who need it. They advise on contraception, they offer counselling, they test for STIs – and yes, they offer pregnancy terminations and advice thereon where appropriate. These are useful services for people to be aware of. There is no reason to panic over one tiny TV spot letting people know about organisations like this.

If you want to hear what somebody informed thinks, Dr Petra’s written about this too.

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