For better or worse, everything changed for Planned Parenthood of Maryland after Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.
The day Donald Trump and Mike Pence won the White House, and enough Republicans were elected to give them control of both houses of Congress, staff at the Baltimore-based organization knew things would be different.
“There was such a wide range of reactions,” said Planned Parenthood of Maryland executive director Karen Nelson. “We had supporters who were angry, supporters who were confused and everyone across the board worried, of course, about the future of Planned Parenthood.”
Planned Parenthood of Maryland serves about 40,000 individuals annually across Maryland through its seven health centers, according to Nelson. That figure includes those reached by educational programs and health services. The vast majority of them aren’t getting abortions, Nelson said.
Planned Parenthood of Maryland spokeswoman Dana Robinson said the organization receives about 30 percent of its budget from the federal government, split mainly between money from the federal Title X Family Planning Program and fees paid by patients on Medicaid.
During his campaign, Trump repeatedly pledged to defund the organization at its national base, as long as it funded abortions. Pence, his running mate, had already signed into law one of the strictest anti-abortion measures in the country while serving as governor of Indiana.
Now that Trump is in office, he has restored a ban on federal funding to international groups that perform abortions. Tom Price, Trump’s recently confirmed health secretary has expressed support for carrying out Trump’s promise to cut public funding of the organization.
And yet with this looming tide of threats and angst has come a separate tide of support, say leaders of Planned Parenthood of Maryland.
“People are concerned and have been helping out in all different facets,” said board member Debbie Rosenberg.
That help has primarily come in the form of money and willing volunteers. To be specific, 6,132 first-time donors pledged money to the organization from Nov. 8 through Jan. 16, with nearly a third of them coming in the two weeks after Inauguration Day. The organization received 78 percent more money than it did during the same three-month period 12 months before. And more than 400 new volunteers have signed on to help the organization since the election.
“Almost immediately, we had an outpouring of support, from people who have been supporting us for years to brand new people,” said Nelson. “It was an amazing show of support.”
The boost didn’t arise from stronger outreach or activism by Planned Parenthood Maryland after the election, the organization’s director said. “It’s all been very organic. It came from a very emotional place and a place of strong concern,” Nelson said.
While much of the debate about funding for the organization during election season focused on abortion, the practice represents a small share of Planned Parenthood’s services. More than 90 percent of what the organization does is preventive, said Nelson. Those services include breast exams, HPV and cervical cancer screenings, birth control, health education, “well woman” visits and sexually transmitted infection and disease testing.
“That’s what I think has gotten lost,” said Rosenberg. “It’s this big fight over abortion. To block the health care that Planned Parenthood provides is crazy.”
While support has changed, women’s needs have not. “We have seen an uptick in people calling to get their birth control now,” particularly intrauterine devices (IUDs), she said. Many fear it won’t be available if the agency is defunded, she said.
Planned Parenthood isn’t alone in seeing a jump in support, however. At least one Maryland anti-abortion group, Maryland Right to Life, has also gotten a boost.
“The one thing we’ve noticed is an increase in people calling and wanting to volunteer and help,” said executive director Ernest Ohlhoff. He attributed some of this to abortion and Planned Parenthood becoming more politicized during election season.
“Fundraising probably kicked up a little bit, but it’s too soon to tell,” he said.
With a slew of protests happening against a regime that disfavors abortion, Planned Parenthood’s supporters have also met with counter-protests. Pro-life protesters planned and held rallies in 200 locations across the United States last Saturday. (Maryland stayed largely quiet.)
Nelson said she’s used to seeing demonstrators outside her organization’s clinics. “Unfortunately we get that backlash all the time,” said Nelson. “Our supporters have stood up and said, ‘No way, you are not welcome at our centers.’”
Rosenberg said people should feel free to take a pro-life stance for personal reasons. “That’s America. You can have your religious beliefs,” she said. “But to try to change laws is not being respectful to everyone. Don’t try to change the laws that can change the lives of the majority.”
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