Let there be no mistake: There is a direct, pernicious and unprecedented attack on women and their health care being waged right now in our country. As an employee of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the married father of two young children, I am an outspoken supporter of women’s health because I recognize the fundamental rights that are stripped away when women and their families cannot access the information and services they seek to plan and care for their families, regardless of financial standing.
Every community in America should have access to high-quality health care — including lifesaving cancer screenings, family planning, prevention and treatment of STDs and the full range of well-woman services. Unfortunately, African-American women face multiple barriers to affordable, accessible health care services and, as a result, experience higher rates of many preventable conditions, such as breast and cervical cancer (pdf), diabetes, heart disease, STDs and unintended pregnancy (pdf).
In advocating for ending the ongoing racial disparities in health care that harm our community, I stated on Feb. 21 that many opponents of reproductive health care do not appear to care as much about policies supporting the health and well-being of black babies as they do about policies restricting the reproductive choices of black women — a statement that has sparked some controversy. [Editor's note: A video of Gaines' comments is on CNSNews.com.] I want to be clear that my comments were not intended as a blanket statement or meant to speculate about any individual's personal views.
My comments were specifically intended to expose the hypocrisy and misguided priorities of elected officials seeking to impose legislation that restricts the rights of women to seek abortion services as well as plan their families using contraception. Many of the leaders opposing access to reproductive health services also oppose many of the legislative initiatives — including access to fair wages and children's health insurance — that would help women stay healthy, support their families and pursue their dreams.
Most tellingly, the author of legislation that would restrict abortions in the District of Columbia, Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), voted to prohibit Planned Parenthood, the nation’s most trusted reproductive health care provider, from providing care through the Title X family-planning program.
The fact is that we can't know the personal and medical reasons behind every individual's decision to have an abortion, and we should respect the decisions made by women, including black women.
Planned Parenthood is there to help women prevent HIV/AIDS, cervical cancer, unintended pregnancy and other health issues, regardless of circumstances. What’s needed more now than ever is exactly the care that Planned Parenthood health centers provide (pdf), including health and sex education, contraceptive care, preventive screenings and testing and treatment for STDs. For example, although black people represent 14 percent of the U.S. population, we account for 69 percent of gonorrhea cases and about half of all cases of chlamydia, HIV/AIDS and syphilis.
From poverty rates to higher rates of death from cervical cancer, African-American women are struggling. The real stories of black women are compelling and deserve real solutions, not political grandstanding. The nation and people on all sides of the reproductive debate would be wise to listen to the real stories of African-American women, to recognize their voices and to trust all women to make the best decisions for themselves and their families.
Ludwig Gaines is the director of African-American leadership and engagement for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.