Filed Under:  Health & Wellness, News

La. Planned Parenthood, council and clergy host ‘town hall’ teleconference

24th June 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Lianna Patch
Contributing Writer

On the evening of June 6, local leaders and Planned Parenthood representatives hosted a “community tele-town hall” to answer questions about the organization’s new clinic on South Claiborne Avenue, scheduled to open in 2014.

Julie Mickelberry, a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman, facilitated the discussion, which included LaToya Cantrell, City Councilmember for District B; Melissa Flournoy, State Director of Planned Parenthood in Louisiana; Lila Arnaud, Planned Parenthood educator; and Reverend Patrick Keen of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in central New Orleans. Participants were invited to listen to the panel’s discussion, call in with questions, and respond to two polls.

In her opening remarks, Mickelberry noted that “healthcare and the challenges we face accessing it in New Orleans” have historically been a weak point of the city’s civil services. The new Planned Parenthood clinic’s main goal is to ameliorate this weakness. Mickelberry cited chilling health statistics, including Louisiana’s high rates of sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and teenage pregnancy. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s most recent statistics, New Orleans ranked fifth among large metropolitan areas in AIDS, while Baton Rouge ranked first. In addition, Louisiana has the highest rate in the nation of cervical cancer among African-American women. Stated Flournoy: “We deserve better here in Louisiana and here in New Orleans.”

60 percent of teleconference listeners agreed that the biggest health issue facing New Orleanians is lack of access to affordable health care, according to a poll administered by Mickelberry several minutes into the discussion.

According to Mickelberry, 97 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services focus on primary care, preventive medicine, and education services for families and individuals. With over 30 years of Planned Parenthood care in Baton Rouge and at the organization’s Magazine Street location, breaking ground on the new South Claiborne Avenue clinic site was “a great beginning of our next chapter,” said Flournoy.

However, it was only a few minutes before the hot-button issue of abortion arose. The first caller, identified as “Al,” asked the panel to expound on Planned Parenthood’s offerings, as he was familiar with the organization only in relation to its pregnancy termination services. Flournoy fielded the question, saying, “One of the big challenges we face is getting accurate information out about what Planned Parenthood actually does. We’re committed to quality care and access to care. And frankly, we are considering abortion as one of those services needed in our community.”

Mickelberry clarified that in addition to cancer screenings, birth control, HIV and STI testing, sex education and other offerings, the new Planned Parenthood will be providing abortions. “Women who have to make this complex decision… will eventually be able to rely on Planned Parenthood for that,” she said.

Continuing the discussion, Councilwoman Cantrell noted that “one thing that is often left out” is that not every pregnant woman visits Planned Parent?hood to terminate her pregnancy. “Many of them leave pregnant and they go on to have their children,” she said. “It is the consultation—that service that Planned Parenthood provides that is so critical—that many women leave wanting to have their child. It’s about getting access to quality info and support services that will help that woman make the best decision possible.”

Caller Cecilia from Marrero noted that male criticism of Planned Parenthood often “seems to be stuck on abortion,” without taking overall women’s health into account. Reverend Keen agreed, citing this one-sided perception as one reason he is publicly supporting the new clinic. “I believe women need to understand that they ultimately have control over their health, their choices and their planning,” he said. “Abortion is a very small part of the totality of women’s health.”

The discussion moved on to what community members can do to change the realities of healthcare in New Orleans outside of word-of-mouth promotion and and monetary donations. Arnaud urged callers facing uncomfortable talks with their children or grandchildren about sexual health to rely on Planned Parenthood’s educational services—specifically, the organization’s “Real Life, Real Talk” workshops, which can be scheduled at Planned Parenthood clinics.

Mickelberry wrapped up the discussion by inviting participants to get more involved. Those interested can volunteer and engage with Planned Parenthood Louisiana online at ppgulfcoast.org/louisiana and on Twitter @PPLouisiana.

This article originally published in the June 10, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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