Planned Parenthood takes a hit in Hamilton
By Tony Gosgnach
Pro-life and pro-family people in the Hamilton area are celebrating after learning that the local Planned Parenthood chapter has had its public funding cut in half by the municipality.
The news comes after the Planned Parenthood Society of Hamilton asked the municipal government for $359,000 last November to replace funding lost when the Ontario government downloaded responsibilities for public-health services onto municipalities.
Planned Parenthood's bid was immediately opposed by the Hamilton-Wentworth Family Action Council, a group of concerned citizens who waged an intense campaign focusing on Planned Parenthood's extreme pro-abortion stance, as well as its counter-productive approach to the scourge of teen pregnancies.
PP is pro-abortion
"Planned Parenthood is a pro-abortion organization," said HWFAC president Phil Lees. "They claim to be a ‘pro-choice' organization, but they do not make referrals to organizations like Birthright and Beginnings, for women who need help carrying their children to term."
Lees added the Hamilton area has the dishonor of having the highest teen pregnancy rate in Ontario and a sexually transmitted disease rate that is 35 per cent higher than the provincial average. "The ‘safe-sex' message in schools promoted by Planned Parenthood has led to an increase in teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases," he said.
Not only has PP's annual funding been cut to $185,000, forcing a scaling-back of its office hours from 39 per week to 15, but a new sexual health steering committee is being established that will contribute to the development of programs to reduce the rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The HWFAC and Birthright will be among the participants on the committee.
Also, the local Birthright office will receive $7,000 in annual funding, while the pro-chastity IDEA (Informed Decisions Empowering Adolescents) program will get $20,000 to pilot projects in five schools. The municipal public health department will also begin referring women in crisis-pregnancy situations to Birthright for counselling and support, and the local medical officer of health has recognized the importance of abstinence for teens in a report on the issue.
For added measure, the Hamilton-Wentworth Roman Catholic Separate School Board recently decided to remove all references to Planned Parenthood from its policies and procedures on pregnant students.
"We don't feel comfortable with the kind of advice and counselling Planned Parenthood gives, especially with regard to abortion," said Tony Cuschieri, co-ordinator of the board's religion and family life program.
The campaign against funding Planned Parenthood often met a bitter response, with pro-funding activists charging that the organization was being smeared by a small minority. However, Jim Enos, chair of the HWFAC's sex education committee, noted that it took little effort to obtain thousands of signatures from throughout the community on a petition opposing funding for PP.
The HWFAC also had to deal with hostility from Hamilton-Wentworth's public health committee chair Marvin Caplan, who was clearly in the Planned Parenthood camp, and coverage from the local media, particularly the Hamilton Spectator newspaper. The paper officially endorsed Planned Parenthood in an editorial and gave preferential coverage to pro-Planned Parenthood letters to the editor, often running them in its "letter-of-the-day" feature.
The Spectator also sicced columnists Andrew Dreschel and Mike Davison on the HWFAC. Dreschel, in particular, devoted numerous columns to the issue, singing the praises of what he saw as a "venerable" Planned Parenthood organization, while slamming the HWFAC and Enos.
"The only group that's come through this sorry process with its integrity intact is Planned Parenthood," Dreschel lamented, arguing that the organization had been the victim of a "political mugging."
In earlier pieces, Dreschel claimed that Planned Parenthood was being used as a "public whipping boy for ignorance and ideology." He also accused Enos of twisting facts in a "flagrant abuse of process."
Sanity "had flown the moment Enos was allowed to parade his group's homophobic attitudes unchallenged in a roomful of democratically elected politicians," Dreschel wrote about a public health committee meeting on the issue.
An "obscure pressure group can walk into a room and malign and misrepresent both a minority and a venerable community organization, and they do it not only with impunity but with the silence that signals consent," he added.
The next day, The Spectator came out with its editorial endorsing the Hamilton Planned Parenthood chapter. "Those who preach extreme ideology of any kind aren't a solution; history tells us they do more harm than good," the paper admonished. "Provided Planned Parenthood continues to operate in an accountable, responsible way, it is deserving of regional government support."
The HWFAC emerged from the fire unscathed, however, and is now looking at ways of assisting and strengthening Hamilton's Birthright office so that it can increasingly provide an alternative to Planned Parenthood for youth sexuality and crisis-pregnancy problems. "Birthright will become a measuring stick for the new direction in public health," said Lees. "If Birthright is successful, there will be more references to pro-life organizations, and therefore fewer abortions. If they cannot meet the increased demand because they do not have the means to assist those in need, then the public health department will again make more referrals to Planned Parenthood. We must be sure that Birthright has everything it needs to do the job."
Birthright Hamilton director Teresa Hartnett said the organization had 3,500 inquiries last year, and that she expects this to increase dramatically now that it has been identified as a community partner in public health.
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