The Church of Planned Parenthood?

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The Church of Planned Parenthood?

Amie Newman

Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts has so far been denied the opportunity to advertise on Worcester public buses. Is it because they are being called a "religious" organization by one board member? Is it political? It's now become a public debate.

Yesterday, Robin linked to a blog post about an absurd situation in Massachusetts that called to me for further exploration for the ways in which this story speaks to how successful the anti-choice leaders have been at disseminating lies about reproductive and sexual health providers as the very root of their movement – fundamentalist religion – is now being used to define these providers.

Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts
has been essentially denied, thus far, the opportunity to advertise on city buses in Worcester. 

The Worcester Regional Transit Authority told the (The Worcester Telegram & Gazette) yesterday that they had been too busy ("we haven’t had the chance") to consider a request made by Planned Parenthood initially in June 2009 to purchase ad space on buses to announce an upcoming move.

Wow, writes the reporter, the WRTA must be "too busy…to accept paid ads from a respected health organization." I’d add that one look at their 2008 Annual Report indicates they are in no position to turn down advertising from a paying customer – especially those non-profit, community service and health organizations that give so much back to the community. According to the report, the WRTA had a deficit of almost $900,000 in 2008. 

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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What’s the reason, then, for the procrastination on the part of the WRTA to run PP’s ads?

Melanie Lown, Director of Communications and Public Awareness for PP
League of Massachusetts told me that back in June, when they signed a
contract to advertise with the WRTA about the upcoming move and expansion of their center, there was "no indication that this
would happen at all."

"We went through the usual process…I submitted the ad. The initial ads were meant to cater to a young demographic and we do market testing to know what messages will resonate. The titles of the ads were ‘Size Matters’ and ‘Bigger is Better’ referring to the expanded size of our new location."

When they sensed there would be a delay related to the copy for the ads, Lown says she offered to change the ads to simply say, "We’re Moving." She was told even that would require "a legal review and would have to go to the WRTA advisory board to be voted on." 

PP received no further explanations for the delay and in fact, Lown says there was no open line of communication with the WRTA until the article in The Boston Globe was published this week, a full seven months after a signed contract was submitted: "We were put off and they wouldn’t meet with us at all until the article in The Boston Globe came out and they were contacted by the reporter."

WRTA administrator Stephen O’Neil told the that the WRTA policy bans advertising related to "tobacco, firearms, politics or religion" and claimed, inexplicably, that PP’s advertising may fall under the "religion" category. O’Neil said that if
the board accepts the advertising they would be "altering the [WRTA]
policy." There is at least one board member who believes Planned Parenthood’s advertising shouldn’t be accepted on these grounds. 

Judith O’Connor told the, "I’m opposed to anything religious…I don’t feel it’s an appropriate ad.” After being questioned about why she believes Planned Parenthood to be a religious organization she admits, 

"I’ll be honest with you…I don’t know much about Planned Parenthood.”

When Lown inquired as to why their advertising needed to go to the advisory board for review in the first place, she was told by O’Neil that usually the ads are more simple.

"But what’s more simple than "We’re Moving?", Lown wondered aloud to me. Lown told me she was also surprised that the high rates of sexually
transmitted infections and teen pregnancy, especially in the Worcester
area, weren’t incentives to the WRTA to run PP’s ads:

"This political decision has denied families the opportunity to hear about health services", she says.

In the meantime, after repeated attempts to purchase the advertising space (and,  in order to help inform the community of the move), Planned Parenthood has literally moved on and now needs to revise the ads (maybe: "We’ve Moved – But the WRTA Won’t"?). As Lown notes,

"Our contract was supposed to be from September 2009-November 2009. We moved in mid-November. It’s really too bad because our new health center is the result of growing demand for our health and education program that we’ve provided since 1982."

The WRTA’s O’Neil told PP that a discussion of their advertising request would be on their next board meeting’s agenda at the end of January – a meeting that is open to the public. 

PP League of Massachusetts remains upbeat, however, and has experienced
an outpouring of community support since this situation has gone
public. They have received notes of support from the Attorney General of
Massachusetts, the Lieutenant Governor and Congressman McGovern.
People are upset. Lown says, "We’ve been denied the opportunity to let
the Worcester community know about the preventative services we offer."

Does anyone else find it ironic that it is the anti-choice organizations which claim religion, shriek religion from the rooftops, blanket themselves in religion as they seek to insert a fundamentalist, religious perspective into all matters of public health and sexual and reproductive health care, and declare PP to be immoral and irreligious? What is the result of these temper tantrums? Planned Parenthood is now being denied the opportunity to advertise because they are "religious"?

Is PP literally damned if they do and damned if they don’t?

I asked Lown if Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts will pursue legal action if the situation is not resolved soon.

"Our CEO, Dianne Luby, sees this an opportunity to educate – not litigate. She reached out to O’Neil and the board member who has raised objections and offered to provide information on the full extent of our services. We’ve invited him to our new facility and have offered to go to the WRTA to educate them. He hasn’t taken us up on the offers yet."