by Dana Cooper | photos by Selavie Photography 

 

When considering low-cost reproductive health care, Planned Parenthood is often the first provider that comes to mind. Its name is also frequently invoked in political debates and news stories because the clinics provide abortions. Arm yourself with this information: According to Planned Parenthood’s 2017 annual report, abortions, both medical and surgical, comprised just three percent of Planned Parenthood’s services. The talking points about fistfuls of government money funding abortion are patently false.

The other 97 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services include HIV testing and prevention, a variety
of contraceptive options, cervical and breast cancer screening, and sexually transmitted disease prevention and treatment at low- and occasionally no-cost to the patient. Less than 40 percent of Planned Parenthood’s revenue comes in the form of government reimbursement for its services. Donors and non-government grants make up the bulk of the organization’s operating budget, and both are vital to continuing its mission.

“We are the most trusted provider of reproductive health care in the nation,” said Aimee Lewis, the vice president of external affairs for the newly merged Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi. “We are a valued source for education and advocacy, and people know that when we fight for their rights, we get results.”

Lewis has been in her current role at Planned Parenthood since 2014. She enjoys working for the
organization because its mission aligns so closely with her own values. Lewis was raised Catholic, but her mother understood the importance of making sure her daughters knew they were in charge of their bodies, as well as the options they had to exercise that control. “My mother grew up in the Mississippi Delta pre-Roe v. Wade, and she had friends who had to seek illegal abortions,” Lewis said. “I have two daughters now, myself, and I do this work so that they will always have the same rights I’ve been fortunate enough to have.”

On the road to ensuring those rights remain intact, a few exciting developments have recently unfolded. In May 2017, Planned Parenthood’s second Memphis office opened on Summer Avenue near I-240. “Before [the second office opened], there were significant wait times for appointments,” Lewis said. “It is also more convenient for people who live in that part of town or out in the suburbs.” She explained that the new location offers the same services provided at the Poplar Avenue office in Midtown, plus meeting space that is frequently used by other organizations in the community.

Access to these services has also been increased through a merger that includes several Planned Parenthood offices across the region. As of June 2018, Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi now covers all of Tennessee and, as the name implies, the northern third of Mississippi. Crittenden County in eastern Arkansas and several counties in southern Kentucky are also included within the region’s impressive reach.

“There are things we have done here in Memphis that we’re able to share with our other health centers, educators and advocacy staff across the state, and vice versa,” Lewis said. One of the programs she referred to is the FYI program, which was started in Planned Parenthood’s Knoxville office. This program teaches high school students about sexual health and gives them the tools to become peer educators. Lewis says that the merger is also making it possible for the Memphis offices to begin offering transgender services in early 2019. These services are already offered in Nashville and Knoxville.

Planned Parenthood’s volunteers and activists are vital to its success. The James Awards ceremony, scheduled for Sept. 13, honors the individuals who have fought to ensure that the organization’s mission survives the myriad attempts at blocking it. Now in its 14th year, the ceremony is held in honor of former Memphis city councilman Bob James, who believed strongly in supporting the work Planned Parenthood does in the community. For 2018, the James Award recipient is Kayla Gore, who is currently the transgender services specialist at OUTMemphis. Gore has been instrumental in helping Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi’s Memphis staff prepare to expand its impact on the local LGBT+ community.

For those interested in joining the fight, there is no shortage of opportunities to jump in. Beers with Pioneers gives prospective activists a chance to learn from individuals who are already advocates for intersectionality, inclusion and access to reproductive health care services here in Memphis. Memphis Monologues, which is hosted every February, is “Memphis’ version of the Vagina Monologues,” Lewis said, “where Memphis women tell their stories about what it means to be a woman.”

Volunteers can also sign up for condom packing nights for Free Condoms Memphis, which
is Planned Parenthood’s very successful local effort to provide condoms and related sexual health supplies to the community at no cost. To date, Free Condoms Memphis has distributed more than a half-million condoms at more than 100 locations.

In these uncertain political and economic times, it is comforting to know that the community has
a friend in Planned Parenthood. “Having to fight these fights, sadly, is not new for us,” Lewis said. “But this is a movement, and it’s bigger than all of us. Try as they might, we’re not going anywhere.”

For more information about Planned Parenthood, including its locations, services and mission, visit pptnm.org. Tickets to the James Awards ceremony can be purchased online at jamesawards. org. To stay informed about volunteer opportunities, news and events, follow Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi on Facebook and Twitter (@pptnmcares).

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