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Planned Parenthood celebrates 100 years of access and advocacy—and a new clinic in Savannah

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A CENTURY ago, before women had the freedom to vote or have a bank account or wear pants in public, a nasty nurse named Margaret Sanger changed everything.

After watching patients suffer from the burden of multiple childbirths and die from self-inflicted abortions, Sanger—herself one of 11 children—had had enough of what she called the “biological slavery” of women. She vowed to help women learn the basics of their bodies and how to prevent pregnancy, publishing anatomically explicit pamphlets deemed “obscene” and opening the country’s first birth control clinic in Brooklyn on Oct. 16, 1916.

The clinic was raided by police nine days later, and Sanger ended up in jail for a month. (The crime? Being a public nuisance. Nasty!)

But the door Nurse Sanger had flung open would not be shut: Five years later, she founded the American Birth Control League, which became Planned Parenthood in 1942. Sanger spent the remainder of her life providing reproductive education for working class and immigrant families, knowing that only when women have dominion over their uteruses are we able control our options, our occupations and our personal power. Her efforts are a bigly reason there are now women in science labs and on the moon, in locker rooms and on the ballot.

A century later, there are those who would turn back that biological clock. Republican politicians have acted on state and federal levels to defund and discredit Planned Parenthood, employing what the Washington Post editorial board calls “legislative gimcrackery” to redefine outpatient requirements and limit reproductive freedom.

Clinics across the country have been forced to close, leaving thousands of women without birth control access as well as the basic healthcare on which PP patients of all genders depend. The New England Journal of Medicine reported in February that births among the poor have risen significantly in Texas since its mass defunding, and VP candidate Mike Pence is credited with an HIV outbreak in Indiana after legislation he crafted while governor shut down a county’s only testing center.

All this gimcrackery makes the opening of Savannah’s beautiful new Planned Parenthood offices all the more significant.

Last month, the two-exam room clinic moved from the small strip of offices on Lee Blvd. that it had been operating out of for over a decade to a spacious former private medical practice on 71st and Paulsen streets. While other clinics have shuttered, Savannah’s has the rare distinction of doubling—maybe even tripling—its patient load.

The office already serves people coming from the entire eastern half of the state as well as parts of South Carolina since Augusta’s clinic closed in February, and the addition of a full-time nurse practitioner means more appointments, available to book instantly online. The center is open weekdays from 8:30am-4:30pm except Wednesdays, when the hours are 10:30am-6:30pm.

“It was not a planned relocation; however, when the landlord of the previous location sold the building, we were unable to renew our lease,” says Planned Parenthood Southeast President and CEO Staci Fox, who bravely oversees the regional birth control battle zone of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi.

“We seized the opportunity to move into larger space so that we could expand access to care.”

Access and affordability are the watchwords of Planned Parenthood, and the new clinic’s proximity to public transportation, two major hospitals and the majority of Savananh’s private medical community validates Planned Parenthood’s as a legit provider. The range of services include general physicals, various forms of contraception including long-acting IUDs and hormonal implants, STD testing and treatment, miscarriage management and safe, legal abortion services.

All forms of insurance are accepted but not necessary as deep discounts continue to be available thanks to generous donors and intact state funding in Georgia, for now.

Fox led a small group of local supporters on an after-hours tour of the new clinic during opening week, almost exactly a hundred years to the day that Margaret Sanger launched her revolution. Standing like a boss in front of the non-profit’s national motto, “Care. No matter what,” she pointed out the comfy lobby decorated in signature PP blue, moving on to the bright exam rooms and gender neutral restrooms denoted with the cheeky Southern descriptor “All Y’all.”

“Our staff is excited to be here providing high quality, judgment-free, compassionate care, no matter what an individual’s income, marital status, race, ethnicity, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, religion, disability, or residence,” Fox reiterated as we clicked down the halls, the faint smell of fresh paint still in the air.

There was a decided giddiness in response to this ovary-friendly atmosphere, though I’m not sure I’m on board that a pap smear here could be “as much fun a person can have in stirrups, except maybe on a horse.”

Still, the emphasis on frank vag talk was empowering during a week when unwanted pussy grabbing and ripping babies from wombs at the last hour (not a thing!) dominated national conversation.

“So many gynecologists still treat being a woman like it’s an illness,” commented longtime advocate Katherine Durso. “Coming to Planned Parenthood is like coming home.”

The mood turned serious as the group passed the wall of security monitors, a reminder that Planned Parenthood and its patients are under constant fire—literally. Anti-abortionists regularly harass patients and providers at clinics around the country, and a few violent crazies use guns and bombs to illustrate their commitment to life. (It seems like rational folk who would like to there to be less abortions would support Planned Parenthood’s distribution of affordable long-acting reversible contraception, which can reduce abortion rates up to 75 percent, according to a 2014 NEJM study.)

Conveniently, the new clinic doesn’t have a public sidewalk for protestors, but those devoted to intimidating women always seem to find a way. Not that they could deter the diverse group of volunteers devoted to ensuring sex education and advocacy in Savannah, who champion the clinic’s gamechanging potential towards decreasing teen pregnancy, which contributes to high poverty and dropout rates.

This March, supporters will host artist/activist Niki Johnson, who rose to fame in 2010 for creating a portrait out of condoms of then-Pope Benedict after he said some real dumb things about AIDS. She’ll be bringing her latest work, “Hills and Valleys”—a sculpture repurposed from signs from defunct Planned Parenthood clinics in her native Wisconsin, thanks to Gov. Scott Walker.

The 8’x8’ mosaic—which also utilizes mirrors purchased at uber-conservative Hobby Lobby for the “vajazzle” portion of the piece, tee hee—is a metaphorical fabric “upon which reproductive rights have been forged by women in the present and past,” writes Johnson, evoking revolutionaries like Sanger, current PP president Cecile Richards and the nameless women who died because those rights were denied.

Her declaration: “Reproductive health care is an American tradition.”

Planned Parenthood has been forging that tradition for a hundred years, making women and those who love them safer, healthier and more powerful.

There are those who might still consider that a public nuisance, which is fine as long as they understand one thing: Reproductive rights are part of what makes this country great, and we’ll be as nasty as we need to be to protect them.

The new Savannah Planned Parenthood clinic is located at 720 East 71st Street. Call 912.351.0116 for an appointment or schedule online at www.plannedparenthood.org/health-center.
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