APHA 2016: Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards on Creating a Healthier World for Women
MPH@GW recently attended the American Public Health Association (APHA) 2016 Annual Meeting and Expo. From October 29 to November 2, the Colorado Convention Center hosted more than 12,000 public health professionals, students and advocates. Hundreds of poster sessions, panels and speeches covered topics aligned with the theme of this year’s meeting, “Creating the Healthiest Nation: Ensuring the Right to Health.” Though we wish we could have attended them all, we’ve highlighted some of our favorite conversations here.
In 1912, a young woman named Sadie Sachs attempted to perform her own abortion. With the help of her physician and nurse, Margaret Sanger, Sachs survived the attempt but begged for help preventing the conception of future children; already a mother of three, Sadie simply couldn’t provide for another.
The physician’s advice? “Tell your husband to sleep on the roof.”
Weeks later, Sachs attempted another abortion and died in the process. The traumatic experience drove Sanger to create the organization we know today as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. The story was one shared by Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards as she kicked off APHA 2016.
Realizing Health Care as a Fundamental Right
As the organization marks its 100th year, Richards said she remains acutely aware of how much women and their advocates have sacrificed to ensure that access to high-quality health care is a fundamental right.
“We are really mindful of the fact that our founding was based on centuries of women who fought for self-determination,” Richards said. “We have to not only be excellent medical providers and researchers; we have to be the strongest public health advocates we can possibly be for the patients who count on us.”
Today, the organization operates 650 health centers across all 50 states. They provide a wide variety of health services to over 2.4 million women and men annually; for many of those patients, Planned Parenthood is their only provider. As a result of the Affordable Care Act, for which Planned Parenthood was an active advocate, 55 million have saved over $1.4 billion on birth control. Today, abortion is one of the safest medical procedures for women in the United States. The nation is experiencing a historic low for teen pregnancy.
Though we’ve made great strides in providing more equitable and accessible health services for women, Richards said, “we still struggle to integrate women’s health into the mainstream.” Furthermore, the progress we’ve made is extremely uneven. Politics has made it difficult for young people and LGBTQ communities alike to access comprehensive, medically accurate sex education and resources that help them lead healthy, satisfying lives. “Why don’t we just let women make their own decisions about their health care in this country?” Richards asked. “It’s so simple.”
“Why don’t we just let women make their own decisions about their health care in this country? It’s so simple.” – Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood
With that in mind, Richards said the organization is committed to removing barriers to care and improving education. She spoke about online booking services, which allow patients to schedule an appointment even when their local health center is closed. Women living in counties without an abortion provider can connect with specialists via telemedicine to get the resources and medication that they need to end a pregnancy. This year, the organization also launched Spot On, an app that teaches women about birth control and helps track their period. To upend the 41 percent of unintended pregnancies caused by birth control misuse, they’ve initiated better and more consistent counseling on birth control to help providers educate patients.
Passing the Torch
Future progress, however, will rely heavily on cultural attitudes toward sex and women. “We aren’t ever going to build health equity unless we end the stigma around sex, sexuality, birth control and abortion,” Richards said. “We need culture change and we need a national movement that ends the shame and judgment about reproductive health care.”
In closing, though, Richards expressed confidence in younger generations who will inherit this challenge, citing their belief in civil rights, science and diversity: “I know that we are just getting started, but I’ve never been prouder to be on the side of public health.”
Read more MPH@GW coverage of APHA below: