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Planned Parenthood: Planning for Idaho's Future

"It's an election like no other. That said, Planned Parenthood feels a lot a momentum: The way we're delivering healthcare, the way we're conducting conversations, all of it is shifting in a positive way."

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Hannah Brass Greer, Idaho legislative director and public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest—a non-partisan, non-profit organization—was issues-deep in a political conversation when she pointed to the Idaho Statehouse.

"When I'm listening to people across Idaho, yes, they want to talk about Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, but what I believe to be true is that our lives are most impacted by that building over there," Greer said. "It's important to engage, but we've got to engage at a local level if anything is truly going to change."

Greer talks about change for a living. When she's not lobbying Idaho lawmakers to secure access to safe, legal healthcare, she's promoting engagement in the political process, no matter how messy it has become.

"It's an election like no other. We can't look back in the playbook of other election years and say 2016 looks like any other year," said Greer. "That said, Planned Parenthood feels a lot a momentum: The way we're delivering healthcare, the way we're conducting conversations, all of it is shifting in a positive way. And this is a pretty big year for us."

To say the least. In addition to what Greer says is "the most progressive presidential ticket that we've ever seen" in the Clinton campaign, Planned Parenthood is marking its centennial. Nearly 100 years to the day from when Planned Parenthood was founded, Greer said, "I don't know how many Idaho students are taught about Margaret Sanger. I don't remember learning about her when I was a student."

In 2015, a series of deceptively-edited "sting" videos from anti-abortion activists claimed to show Planned Parenthood officials trying to sell fetal tissue. Shortly thereafter, a number of Idaho legislators and representatives from the office of Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter demanded an accounting of how much in Idaho tax dollars had gone toward paying for abortions at Planned Parenthood facilities—particularly procedures funded through Medicaid. Idaho Medicaid dollars can only be used to pay for abortions in cases of rape or incest or if the mother's life is at risk, and lawmakers were informed that between 2012 and 2014, only two abortions funded by Medicaid were performed by Planned Parenthood in Idaho—the state's portion was $108. Meanwhile, the people responsible for the videos were indicted by a Texas grand jury on felony charges of tampering with government documents.

In 2015, more than 7,000 patients were served at Planned Parenthood’s three Idaho locations: 6 percent were for STI/HIV screenings, 20 percent for contraception, 18 percent for pregnancy testing, 11 percent for wellness visits, 9 percent for abortions, 5 percent for breast cancer screenings and 1 percent for sterilizations.


"There's a political shift to attack Planned Parenthood and other organizations that increase access to health services," said Greer. "I don't expect those attacks to slow down."

That shift has been tangible at the Idaho Statehouse where, in 2015, the Idaho Legislature pushed through House Bill 154, which requires women to get an exam and counseling from a physician before they can purchase the chemical abortion drug RU-486. Planned Parenthood filed suit against the State of Idaho, saying the new law illegally restricts access to safe and legal abortions in Idaho.

More recently, the 2016 Idaho Legislature passed House Bill 516, requiring Idaho doctors give women seeking an abortion a list of ultrasound providers, including names of "limited service" or "crisis pregnancy" centers—places that give false or misleading information about what services are offered and deny referrals for reproductive health care.

"Many of those centers aren't regulated. Many of them, if any, aren't even required to comply with HIPAA laws. There are all sorts of problems with the facilities are on that list," said Greer. "We now have a lot of people being pushed toward places that, I'm concerned, aren't providing accurate information. It's clearly agenda-driven."

Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump took aim at Planned Parenthood during his final debate with his opponent Hillary Clinton, saying he would push to end federal funding to the organization and would only add "pro-life" justices to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"People in Idaho are talking. And sometimes they're asking about Clinton or Trump, but they're also asking, 'Why can't I get access to the healthcare that I need today?' And then they learn, 'Oh, it's because the Idaho Legislature makes you wait for it," said Greer. "And we're hearing more and more volunteers say, 'You know why I'm here today? It's because I'm sick of what's going on. And I want to talk about this. And I want to talk to other voters.'"

According to Cynthia Alleman, support for Planned Parenthood in Idaho comes from all corners of the political spectrum.

"Not just burning feminists," she said.

Alleman's daughter, Amber Reynolds-Smith, agreed.

"That's right," she said. "Sometimes, it's a conservative retired Lieutenant Colonel from the Air Force," she added, referring to her 82-year-old grandfather, Fred Alleman.

Cynthia said her father has been a Republican for much of his adult life.

"For him, it has always been about doing right, and Planned Parenthood has been one of those groups that he wanted to support," she said.

Reynolds-Smith said that kind of support can come from unexpected places.

"The political climate was definitely a big reason for my grandfather to step forward," she said.

It also led Alleman's daughter and granddaughter to the Idaho Statehouse on Feb. 15 to seek out Planned Parenthood representatives on what has become known as Annual Reproductive Health and Rights Lobby Day.

"I remember that day as if it was yesterday," said Greer. "Cynthia and Amber walked into the room—we didn't know they were coming—and they said they wanted to know more about all we do. That's when we told them how anxious we were to bring our Teen Council program to the Treasure Valley."

Soon thereafter, the Fred Alleman Family Trust committed to help fund the new Treasure Valley Teen Council, a peer education and leadership program in which teens learn medically accurate, sexual health information through their peers.

"They've done studies that show, time and again, kids are more likely to digest information from their peers," said Reynolds-Smith. "This is right in-sync with my grandfather's views; he's a huge advocate of solid education. When we told him about the program, he was thrilled. The values of Planned Parenthood, particularly the education and the right to a woman's choice, is so important to him. For him, it transcends politics."

Education is equally important to Cody Hafer, the man in charge of making the Teen Council happen for Planned Parenthood in the Treasure Valley.

"I'm a community outreach coordinator, but I'm also a sex-ed educator," he said. "I'll be training our teen council teams to do what I do, and then they'll join us in a number of the classes that we offer families."

Over the next few months, Hafer will recruit a select group of high-schoolers to comprise the new Planned Parenthood Teen Council for the Treasure Valley. A similar program has in place in the Wood River Valley for the past three years.

"Education is so critical because there's definitely an education gap in Idaho. Sex education is all over the place, because it's local control," said Greer. "Even if we had top-notch sexual health education in every Idaho school, which is not going to happen in the foreseeable future, we would still want to do the teen council program."

Hafer said youth simply open their eyes and ears when peer instructors are sharing good, solid scientific facts.

"We've surveyed youth in a rigorous evaluation and we saw, across the board, that no matter what the content was, the information delivered from the teen council was what the audience remembered the most," said Hafer. "Young people's brains light up in a different way when they see their peers in front of them. It sticks more. They remember more."

In the Treasure Valley, Planned Parenthood currently offers "All About Puberty" and "Sex and Responsibility," classes designed to be taken by youth and parents together. Additionally, "Improving the Lives of Teens" has been rolled out to Canyon County organizations and schools.

Detractors who suggest Planned Parenthood is proselytizing when it comes to making a personal decision would be hard-pressed to find a left-wing agenda.

"We have a values-neutral protocol," said Hafer. "My job is to provide medically accurate information. When it comes to values, it's my job to remain neutral."

For Reynolds-Smith, her grandfather's donation helps make the teen council a reality will reach generations of Idahoans, including her own children (Alleman's great grandchildren).

"I'm a mother of a 10-year old girl and seven-year-old son. Everything I do is about them. I think about what's it like for them, to see the support coming from their great-grandfather to establish a program that my kids may actually use someday," said Reynolds-Smith. "Planned Parenthood is such a big deal today. In today's political climate, we've got to take a close listen to the conversations that are going on right now. Yes, it's about women and their right to choose and their access to birth control, so that will impact my daughter someday. But it's truly about my son as well. We've got to examine the national conversation about sexual consent and healthy respect for one another. This is a huge deal."

Greer says the current political climate is "unlike any other" and the untamed tornado that has been the Trump campaign has cut a wide swath across the political divide.

"Can you imagine for a moment..." said Greer. She paused for a moment and smiled. "Seriously. Just try to imagine a world where Donald Trump would have gone through a teen council workshop as a young man. I'm pretty sure that we wouldn't be in the political climate that we're in right now."