Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando hosts an open house Thursday, Sept. 22, at its new, second clinic and administrative offices at 726 S. Tampa Ave. We talked with Sue Idtensohn, the president and CEO of PPGO, about the expansion and plans for future growth.
OW: What does the opening of the new facility mean for Orlando?
Idtensohn: It means finally there will be a place where men and women can come that's indicative of what they should expect from health care. We specifically designed this clinic so that it was a beautiful setting, that it was welcoming, that everyone could get care and that it does not look like a health-care clinic.
OW: And what does it mean for Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando?
Idtensohn: We are in our 10th year, and this is kind of our coming out in the community. We now have a real footprint here. We're in an area we decided to come into this ZIP code, 32805, is a real area of need. We all know there's been a lot of money put into this ZIP code to try to correct issues, to try to help people become successful. But we made a conscious decision to be here because there is a real high rate of teen pregnancy in this area. There's a very high rate of women who are not getting prenatal health care. There's a real disparity in this community in the African-American and Haitian community. And we thought it was important to be located in an area where people could easily access us that they do not need to have a car to come to our clinic; that they could come here at any time and be seen.
OW: What are the plans for future development and growth for PPGO? And where will the money come from?
Idtensohn: We have a clinic in east Orlando that's been open for about three years and that's still open. We are in the process of raising money for a clinic in the Melbourne/Palm Bay area. Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando covers Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Brevard counties. We are going to be opening a clinic in the Kissimmee area and Sanford, possibly one along I-Drive. It really is a board decision I have a very active and supportive board that is very involved in the community and feels that we need to be providing services. Our mission is to be in areas that provide service for women and men.
We raised our money from the community. As you can imagine, the government does not give Planned Parenthood money for contraceptive care. We raise all of our money from private donations. We charge a small fee for the services that we offer here. We have such a tremendous amount of people in the area who are supportive of Planned Parenthood. They are supportive of reproductive rights. They are supportive of privacy issues. They may not stand out on a street corner like I do with a sign that says, "Honk if you're pro-choice," but it's a terrific community, and it's a philanthropic community.
OW: That kind of flies in the face of the perception that Orlando is conservative.
Idtensohn: I do think that Orlando is conservative, but I also think there's a very strong underpinning of people who are progressive. We have had a lot of people move into our community from all different parts of the country. We have a very large lesbian and gay community here. We have a tremendous amount of people who are maybe not as vocal as the right-wing Christian conservative community is, but they are equally involved in their community. They may do it in more quiet ways, but I found just about every time when I turn around and ask people if they can help, if they can donate, they will do so. The difference is that the conservative side is a lot more effective in getting money from the corporations and foundations that are here. Whereas the money that comes into Planned Parenthood is almost totally from private donations, from individual donations, from people on the street who will give us $5.
OW: How much money did you raise for the new facility?
Idtensohn: We raised about $1.8 million. And that was over about a year and a half. And we are on our next phase, which, as I said, is to raise money for [facilities in] the other areas of our community. We got a matching grant from the Elizabeth Morse Genius Foundation for $600,000, and we matched that dollar for dollar. We had a couple of very generous donors give us $200,000.
It was really self-affirming. I think that unless you do a project like this, you really don't know what is there. And my philosophy has always been that we have such a great cause, we really do stand up for the right things. I challenge anyone to tell me that we are not a value to this community. We save untold unplanned pregnancies. We see about 12,000 a year. We are speakers at Orange County public schools. We talk with young people about choices. And I think that it's very important that we stand up and be counted.
OW: What would you say are the most critical services that PPGO currently provides?
Idtensohn: Right now, I think our family-planning service, providing birth control, providing emergency contraception and we do dispense a lot of emergency contraception also HIV testing and testing for sexually transmitted infections.
OW: What is the most critical service you need to provide?
Idtensohn: Abortion services.
OW: Why are abortions not performed at PPGO?
Idtensohn: We were in a very small facility [at the East Clinic], in a 2,000-square-foot kind of converted house. We've been there about 10 years, and it wasn't conducive. I don't want to bring a service into this community where a person can't come and feel like they are really being taken care of well. So we do have other abortion providers in town. But because my mission and my passion is to have a continuum-of-care philosophy for Planned Parenthood so that we have a real "choice" clinic where we provide education, contraception, prenatal care, adoptions and abortions I think that it's very important that we do provide that full range of services.
OW: What are the pros and cons of offering abortion at your facilities?
Idtensohn: The con is always the issue that the conservative side will raise and that is that you should not be providing abortions, period, regardless of who you are, whether you are Planned Parenthood or another clinic in town. But we see it very much as a legitimate, safe, legal procedure. It is the choice that the woman makes, not the choice that Planned Parenthood makes for that woman. And it is very important that she come to a safe environment, that she come to a place where she can get care and also after-care.
The pros are that there is a void in the community, there is a real need to provide medical abortions which is RU-486 and it's not being used frequently in this community. It's a great option and an early option for women because you can tell very early now if you are pregnant, and it works up to seven weeks of pregnancy. So instead of going to surgery, you can have the early option pill.
OW: How do you think that not offering abortions has affected your fund-raising?
Idtensohn: There will be people who will give to us because we do not provide abortion services. But the majority of the people believe in choice, and abortion is a function of the choice issue. I'm sure when we start raising money for abortion services we will lose some of our donors, but I would guess that we will gather a lot more donors, which isn't always what has happened around the country.
OW: How would you describe your clientele?
Idtensohn: About 80 percent of our patients are between the ages of 17 and 25. We basically have a young, working population. Probably 80 percent are white. We have a large Hispanic population, and we have a bilingual staff here. But we want to provide services in the disparate communities where they are not getting care. We work very hard on the cultural issues in those communities. But the majority of the patients who come to us know the Planned Parenthood name it's been around for almost 90 years now. It's actually the largest organization in the world providing family-planning services, so it's a very well-known, very well-trusted name … and I'd say 95 percent of the people who come here don't have health insurance at all.
OW: Planned Parenthood is active on several political fronts; let's run down the most pressing issues. Emergency contraception?
Idtensohn: We provide emergency contraception, which is commonly called the morning-after pill. Within five days of unprotected intercourse, it's effective the earlier it's taken the better. So we tend to dispense a lot of it on Monday mornings, and it is interesting. A lot of women who come in may have been using contraception but the condom broke. Or maybe they skipped a couple or three of their pills. Some of the women we see maybe had been out on a date and didn't anticipate getting in a situation like they did.
As you know, the FDA just said, "Oh, well, we're not going to approve it for over-the-counter, we want to have more debate and more information." And that's just all politics. This administration is not going to allow this to go over the counter. This administration will do everything that they can to restrict women's access to just about everything birth control pills, abortion, you name it. They are adamant about making sure that we have no say about our bodies.
OW: Supreme Court nominations?
Idtensohn: We are very concerned about John Roberts we just don't know. He has not had many opinions because he has not been a sitting judge for that long. When he was the solicitor general for Dubya's father, he did write some very disturbing comments about privacy issues, about the "tragedy of abortion" he used those terms. And I think it is incumbent on the people that are going to be grilling him to find out where he stands on choice and privacy and a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.
Do I think he is going to be confirmed? Probably. My bigger concern is what's going to happen to the next appointment, and the one after that, because Stephens is 85, and he is the liberal voice. This president has a unique opportunity to appoint three people that are going to change the way this country works and acts. That's very unnerving.
OW: With regard to hot-button issues, what have I left out?
Idtensohn: I think that a real hot button with me is the whole issue of privacy. There needs to be some discussion and debate and some attention paid to what this government is doing in terms of stripping our liberties away from us I mean, the Patriot Act and the fact that they are restricting women's rights. They are going to restrict rights for gays and lesbians, as well. That really concerns me more than anything else because the overlay of the privacy issue impacts everything that we do on a daily basis.
OW: If you personally could change one thing today with regard to your work with Planned Parenthood, what would it be?
Idtensohn: I would like more people to come and visit me. I would like more people to know what we are about and to talk with some of our clients and to experience what I did today. A woman called me and said, "I went to Planned Parenthood 30 years ago, and I want to tell you that you changed my life, and I want to help." And she ended up donating $500 to our Katrina fund.
And I mean, where do you get that, where does that happen in most jobs? And I think people need to know that we are not confrontational but we are determined, because we think that these are such credible issues access to care, choice issues that we will constantly fight, I will always fight for. We've had threats. We've had bomb scares. We've had anthrax scares. We've got all that. And it just makes me more determined.