Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin turns 75
It began in 1935 as a small, volunteer-run clinic called the Maternal Health Center in Milwaukee, at a time when birth control was not yet legal and when such services were only available to married couples by law.
In 2010, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin (PPWI) celebrates its 75th anniversary. Today it operates 27 health centers around the state, providing affordable pregnancy care, preventative screenings, access to birth control, STD testing and treatment to more than 73,000 patients, making it the largest provider of reproductive health care in Wisconsin.
It’s a good time to reflect on Planned Parenthood. More than a health services clinic, Planned Parenthood is an all-around advocate and voice for easy access to all kinds of health care, and it works tirelessly to fulfill its mission both within its clinics and in the legislature. 2010 has seen the passage of several landmark laws that make it easier for men, women and teens to obtain reproductive health and related services.
On May 1, Gov. Doyle extended the Family Planning Waiver to cover men. That means that for the first time ever in Wisconsin, men who qualify are eligible for free family planning services, STD testing and cancer screenings.
PPWI President and CEO Teri Huyck says that in 2009, more than 4,600 men received health services at their clinics. Extending the Waiver to men will help ensure that more couples and families take advantage of family planning services.
“Access to preventive health care for both men and women is a critical part of ensuring that every child is born wanted, cared for and loved,” says Huyck.
In practical terms, preventing unwanted pregnancies saves the state money. Lots of money. Huyck points to a 2008 Guttmacher Institute Analysis that shows for ever dollar invested in family planning services, the state saves $4. She also notes a report in the Wall Street Journal, which highlights the savings of Wisconsin’s Medicaid Family Planning Program, showing that the state spent $18.4 million on the program in 2008.
That same year, the Health Department estimates the program prevented over 11,000 unplanned pregnancies, which equates to a savings of approximately $139.1 million in expenditures to cover births and other care.
Another major piece of legislation has the potential to greatly reduce Wisconsin’s rates of sexually transmitted diseases. Expedited Partner Therapy (EPT) was passed on May 11 and follows the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) best practice of allowing physicians to prescribe (and pharmacists to dispense) an extra dose of medication for the three most common STDs (chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichom0niasis) for a patient’s partner.
Chlamydia is an especially troubling problem, and EPT an especially welcome tool to combat it. By no means confined to one social or ethnic group, it is asymptomatic in men but can lead to infertility in women. According to a 2007 study by the state Department of Health Services (DHS), Wisconsin’s chlamydia rate has been steadily increasing over the past decade, with the highest number of infections occurring in women aged 20-24.
Many other states have already implemented EPT, with positive results. It is used both in Minnesota and Iowa, and both have significantly lower chlamydia rates than Wisconsin (which ranks 23rd nationwide).
Sexually transmitted diseases not only take a huge toll on public health, but also on the state’s budget. “DHS estimates that the Wisconsin spends approximately $117 million annually on the direct medical costs associated with treating STDs among just 15-24 year olds,” says Huyck.
State lawmakers also passed the Healthy Youth Act, requiring schools to provide a comprehensive sex education curriculum (teaching abstinence and birth control as prevention and providing medically accurate info about STDs) as well as a bill that requires insurance companies with prescription drug plans to cover birth control.
Despite the abundance of evidence that such policies are good for Wisconsin, securing their place in the legislature has not been easy for PPWI, which has always been opposed by pro-life activists. Most of that opposition stems from the fact that PPWI offers abortion services. Though abortions make up a tiny fraction of the services offered (approximately 3 percent), Huyck says that it is a critical component of comprehensive reproductive care.
Huyck says that the aforementioned laws have the power to “impact the daily lives of many Wisconsinites struggling to access basic health care, including birth control.” She directs me to one of the patient testimonials found on the PPWI website from a young woman named Megan:
“I come to Planned Parenthood because I don’t have the means to have my own insurance… my employer doesn’t offer it, and I can’t afford it, but Planned Parenthood offers all the services I need to be a responsible, healthy person.”
“Countless women, just like Megan, view reproductive health care as their most basic health care—and their reproductive health care providers as their most trusted health care professionals,” says Huyck. “In fact, 60 percent of our patients consider Planned Parenthood to be their primary health care provider… PPWI remains steadfast in our commitment to reduce barriers and increase access to the full range of reproductive health care and information for everyone.”
Today, PPWI will host Party in the Park in Washington Park from 4-7 pm, featuring music from Chester French, Prophetic and DJ Madhatter. Huyck says it’s an opportunity to provide outreach and education and also to thank the Greater Milwaukee Area for nearly a century of support.
“As we reflect on our 75th anniversary this week, I think all of us at Planned Parenthood can say it is our honor to continue to be the trusted health care provider for another generation of Wisconsin women and families.”