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The Spectrum of Speculation about Planned Parenthood: Rep. Mike Pence and the Mormon Woman

Two wildly contrasting views of Planned Parenthood have surfaced in recent weeks.
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Two wildly contrasting views of Planned Parenthood have surfaced in recent weeks. The first is that of Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, who sees Planned Parenthood as the personification of darkness and wants to cut off all government aid to this medical provider. The vehicle to do this is H.R. 217, the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act. The bill would deny community women's health centers the ability to provide vital services like contraception, cancer screenings and breast exams.

It is always strange that many men, particularly religious men, seem to believe they know better than women how women should live. There is great irony in this. It is more than a little disturbing that people who can never experience the reality of an unwanted pregnancy are always telling the woman what she should do. It is easy to take a strict moral position when there is no cost to the person taking it.

As a person who has been a Protestant minister for 50 years, I certainly do not know what is best for a woman facing an unplanned pregnancy. But everything I have learned about religious compassion in this long career says that we should trust the woman to make the decision. Why is it so hard to do that? Entire religious denominations rush to Washington and every state capital to do all they can to keep women, especially poor women, from getting the reproductive health services they need.

A very different view of Planned Parenthood was taken recently by Nicole Hardy, in an article ("Single, Female, Mormon, Alone") in the Jan. 7 New York Times. Unmarried at 35, she had lived by the strict code of the Mormon Church: no sex before marriage. In a society where most couples live together before marriage, she decided to change her life. She went to Planned Parenthood, despite all the bad things it was supposed to represent --condoms and abortions. She was stunned to discover the (her words) "tenderness," "empathy" and "compassion" she found there. She said they treated her body as though it was "sacred." She said she finally understood why so many frightened and misused women had come there.

A good part of my ministry, and that of thousands of other ministers and rabbis, has been spent in helping this embattled agency. Clergy have been doing this since the 1920s. The other clergy can all speak for themselves, but I will tell anyone that I have found more compassion in the affiliates of Planned Parenthood than I have found in many churches.

Representative Pence and his colleagues are dead wrong. Planned Parenthood is the best friend women can have.