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Commentary: Planned Parenthood is part of solution

By Rita Koll, Alexandria, MN

Recently, I've thought about how I tend to vote my identity. Most of us align ourselves with friends, family, church and political party, supporting what is familiar and what maintains our loyalty to the group. We find it difficult to seek out and objectively evaluate information. Rather, we seek validation for our existing beliefs, bolstering those beliefs with arguments that often depart from established facts. In short, facts don't matter. We vote our tribe.

Planned Parenthood Alexandria will soon mark the relocation and opening of their new clinic. They have served our rural community for 35 years. Yet for many in my church tribe, Planned Parenthood is a dirty word. How do I make sense of this? How do I come to a reasoned position that is authentic to my own life experience and weighs the established facts?

As a past social worker, I've witnessed the tremendous public and personal cost of teen pregnancy and early parenthood. I worked at an agency that emphasized counseling and adoption and later was fortunate to counsel brave women in domestic violence situations who endured coerced sex. They sought preventive services and vital screenings from Planned Parenthood. I remember feeling much gratitude that these women could access Medicaid and public funding for confidential, compassionate care. Yet I also witnessed up close the emotional aftermath of abortion. I deeply believe in the dignity of the human person, both mother and child. I found I could not fully support a pro-choice plank in my political party platform. Eventually, I obtained a graduate degree in theology and taught for 15 years at a Catholic institution. How to put it all together? I decided to investigate the facts regarding the mission/practice of Planned Parenthood in Alexandria. I spoke with their state staff as well as a priest friend. I did my best to evaluate the facts:

• Planned Parenthood serves 600+ patients each year in Alec with about half relying on Medicaid and public funds. In states that cut funding (Texas and Indiana), unintended pregnancies and HIV infections rose.

• Planned Parenthood has been critical to the 66 percent decline in teen pregnancies in MN since the 1990s and our lowest abortion rate in 35 years. (MN Dept. of Health, July 2016)

• Those hurt most by lack of access to care are those already struggling to get by, especially those of low and moderate incomes and in rural areas. These are the poor and vulnerable of my religious tradition.

• Abortions are not performed in the Alec clinic. For better or worse, this was important to me. In addition, Federal Medicaid funding is never used for abortions. I was not fully aware of this.

After 40+ years of stalemate and ineffectiveness, can opposing sides partner to work together for new solutions to the problem of unwanted pregnancy, sexual disease and abortion? On examining the facts, I've found Planned Parenthood is part of the solution. They are a vital piece of the health care safety net for our community members. Congratulations to Planned Parenthood Alexandria! You have my vote.