photo: Photo: iStock

The war against Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit that provides reproductive health and maternal and child health services, has raged for years, intensifying after two controversial videos were released last month by the Center for Medical Progress. The videos show Planned Parenthood supposedly "selling" fetal tissue and organs. The New York Times later pointed out that the Center for Medical Progress's footage had been heavily edited down to eliminate statements that prove that Planned Parenthood does not profit from the sale of fetal parts. If a patient chooses to donate fetal tissue to be researched for treatments for degenerative diseases, the organization facilitates this by having some of its clinics partner with the bio company StemExpress and donates the tissue. Even so, the frenzy to defund the women's health group, which has served Latinas in particular, has only continued.

"Latinos have the lowest rate of health-care coverage of any ethnic group, as one quarter are uninsured," says Larissa Vasquez, adult programs manager at Planned Parenthood of New York City. "About three in 10 Latinos have not visited a physician in the last year, and one-quarter of Latinos do not have a regular health-care provider. Latinas also have the lowest income when compared to women in any other community of color, making it difficult for them to access health care." Planned Parenthood helps Latinas by providing them with low- to no-cost contraception, STD testing and treatment, lifesaving cervical and breast cancer screenings, HIV testing, counseling, and more.

Here, Ariel Nagi, a half Middle Eastern, half Brazilian lifestyle editor, shares her personal Planned Parenthood story with Vivala.

photo: Photo: Ariel Nagi

I grew up in a strict, traditional Latino home where sexual health wasn't something that was openly spoken about. I couldn't even play with boys when I was a kid — that's how old-school it was. Before visiting Planned Parenthood, I knew nothing about reproductive health. My mom told me a few things about sex and protecting myself, but I didn't know half the things I needed to know. I got pregnant when I was 22 years old, shortly after graduating college. I didn't really have a real job, wasn't making enough money to support a baby, and Planned Parenthood really helped me with everything. Without them I don't think I would have been able to do it.

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There’s this misconception that Planned Parenthood is just a center for abortions, but that couldn't be the farther from the truth. From my experience, the biggest issue Republicans, religious conservatives, and even the general public have with Planned Parenthood, is that they don't really understand all the resources they provide.

In high school, if anyone ever mentioned Planned Parenthood, everyone instantly thought about abortions, but that's just a tiny fraction of what they actually offer women. In fact, most don't even do abortions; they will refer you to a different center. When I first visited Planned Parenthood, I learned that they offer everything from contraceptives to birth control pills to pap smear exams to STD testing to cervical cancer screenings, and even pregnancy support. They gave me a pregnancy test, offered me support, free formula after the baby was born (in case I had problems breastfeeding), and were literally there for each step of the way. I never used their social work services, but I was told about them. I remember when I first found out I was pregnant, the first thing they asked me was whether or not I wanted to keep the baby. They gave me options, they provided me with support, and I never felt judged.

So when all the controversy surrounding Planned Parenthood began this year, I felt it was important to post something on my Facebook page about my experience.

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I just don't understand why our bodies are everyone else's business. Women are still in a place where we have to defend ourselves and what we choose to do with our bodies. Why are we still trying to explain to men why a certain issue is important to us or why a certain resource is necessary? I consider myself a feminist and care a lot about women's rights. So when I saw the vote didn't go through and saw how close it was, it scared the crap out of me. I mean, could you imagine if they actually defunded Planned Parenthood? What options would women have? In certain areas in the country, women have to drive four or five hours to the closest clinic or gyno office, and that’s ridiculous. Planned Parenthood is especially important for Latinas — they even offer resources for undocumented women without health insurance.

I don't want to stereotype the Latino community, but many of us grew up in conservative households where parents weren't open about sex. The more educated girls are about their health, the more they are going to protect themselves and be able to help themselves in the long run. When you don't have health insurance or parents you can openly speak to about sex, it's important to have a safe place to go to and learn basic information about your body and sexual health.