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Agency offers far more than abortions

It's hard to miss Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania's Downtown location on Liberty Avenue this time of year.

During Lent, protesters singing hymns and holding up signs about their "40 Days for Life" campaign line the street near the center. They hand out pamphlets offering women options to abortion.

When an older woman handed me one, I chuckled. I'm eight months pregnant. That's what they call shutting the barn door after the horse is gone.

Planned Parenthood is a target these days. News agencies last week reported a lively exchange when outgoing Fox talk show host Glenn Beck mocked a rival radio commentator who said he has friends who rely on the organization. "Hookers• Who• Who depends on Planned Parenthood?" Beck asked.

The organization avoided government defunding with a Senate vote last week. Still, some states might withdraw taxpayers' money from the organization because it provides abortions.

Here are some other things Planned Parenthood provides: testing for sexually transmitted diseases and cancer, Pap smears, condoms and counseling. The Pittsburgh office recently extended services to transgender and gay clients.

The organization offers sex education. You might ask, "Who needs that in this day and age?"

Here's a frightening statistic: One of four teenage girls leaves high school with an STD, according to Planned Parenthood. Considering that we live in the Information Age, that shows a staggering lack of education. Who can oppose teaching women to use protection when they have sex?

Amy McQuaide, one of the protesters on Liberty Avenue, told me why the group traveled from the Greensburg area.

"We're here to save lives," she said.

The group opposes contraception because it prevents life from forming. McQuaide alleges that Planned Parenthood purposely provides ineffective contraception so women have to come back and the organization can make money. Planned Parenthood denied similar charges in the past.

Still, says McQuaide, using contraception leads to a breakdown of the family unit. "People are very ill-informed," she said.

Rebecca Cavanaugh, Planned Parenthood's vice president for public affairs, likely would agree with that statement but for entirely different reasons. She says abortions make up 3 percent of services Planned Parenthood provides, not 90 percent as Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl recently claimed. (He later said his comment wasn't meant to be factual. Ah, politicians.)

Even if the number were higher, a 1976 law prevents using government money for abortions. Patients and donors pay for those servoces Planned Parenthood performs.

Government provides one-third of Planned Parenthood's funding, and losing that would be a huge hit, Cavanaugh said.

"It's not like I would lose my job," she said. "It's women and clinicians who would suffer."

There might be something to that. While I was talking to her, McQuaide stopped to give a woman a pamphlet and told her to be informed about her options.

"For what?" the woman answered. "I had my son; I'm here for a checkup."

Who depends on Planned Parenthood, indeed.

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