The mission of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast is to ensure the right and ability of all individuals to manage their sexual and reproductive health by providing health services, education and advocacy.
“This is the minimum things that happen when a woman comes in to a Planned Parenthood clinic for a family planning visit,” begins Sharon Howard, a consultant for Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast who worked in the state Office of Public Health for 30 years.
“She receives an annual well woman exam, which is a physical examination. She receives life saving cancer screenings. She gets a pap test. She gets a breast exam. She gets diagnosis and treatment for abnormal pap test. A lot of times the woman that comes in, that might be her only medical visit in that year, or for years.”
Sharon Howard says diminished state funding has led to significant waiting times in state hospitals to follow up on abnormal pap smears, which can be a sign of cancer. This can be life or death, says Howard, and Planned Parenthood has stepped up by providing those follow up examinations.
But there’s still more women get on a single visit to Planned Parenthood.
“They get a pregnancy test, HIV testing and counseling. They get birth control, and they get an array of birth control methods, and the method that’s picked is based on the woman’s choice and the medical professional’s estimation of what that woman should be taking to control her fertility. And then you get referrals to health facilities for anything that’s discovered in your physical exam. They get sexual health information and counseling. This might be the only place that they receive that.”
“The state of sex education now in this state is unfortunately not through any state level funding,” says Reagan Carter, director of public affairs with Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. Carter spends a lot of time in Baton Rogue sitting in on legislative sessions.
“When you think of states that have mandates for sex education, their rates of HIV, sexually transmitted infections, and teen pregnancies, are much lower than states like Louisiana that don’t have mandates,” says Carter. “And not only is there a direct correlation to comprehensive sex education and reducing these rates, it’s also a direct correlation with students graduating from high school. And so sex education has amazing outcomes that are related to teen pregnancy, related to reducing sexually transmitted infections, but just related to healthier adolescence in general.”
So what are Louisiana’s children missing out on by not having a mandate for sex education in school?
“The Centers for Disease Control, and many other national medical organizations, recommend that children receive comprehensive sex education,” says Carter. “Sex education in kindergarten is simply talking with students about appropriately washing their hands. It is about protecting them from sexual abuse, teaching them about good touches and bad touches. And when you go through elementary school, it’s about friendships: how to communicate, how to have healthy friendships. And in middle school you get into puberty. You talk about dating in high school. And so it is very age appropriate.”
The Louisiana State Legislative session that ended in early June passed House Bill 305, which said any organization that provides abortion services cannot teach sex education in schools. Which means Planned Parenthood — currently one of the main providers of sex education in Louisiana — can no longer teach sex-ed in schools.
Outside of schools, it continues to partner with community and faith-based organizations.
Sharon Howard was Assistant Secretary for Louisiana’s Office of Public Health prior to working with Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. She’s seen a dramatic drop in the number of women receiving family planning services.
“You know, I can look about and think about in 2000, when we were seeing 82,000 women in family planning services statewide in Louisiana,” recalls Howard. “In 2008, we were seeing 58,000 women. So now in 2013 — which is last year — we are seeing 35,203 women. We have had a reduction of 60% of services to women from the family planning program. We’re not doing well. We’re not doing well at all.”