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Jun 18, 2019 2:55 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Focus At Local Planned Parenthood Benefit At Guild Hall Turns Toward Washington, D.C.

Johanna Alter Wilson, Vincent Russell and Jill Scheuer. KYRIL BROMLEY
Jun 21, 2019 11:02 AM

There were many goals for the people who put together Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic’s annual fundraiser, Artists For Choice, at Guild Hall in East Hampton on Saturday evening. Obvious priorities were bolstering financial support for the organization and raising awareness of the need not only for monetary support but also for increased advocacy and activism in the face of recent attacks on abortion and reproductive rights nationwide. But for doctors and other leaders from the organization’s local affiliate who were on hand on Saturday, a common theme emerged when they spoke about the challenges Planned Parenthood is facing lately, and how to push back against opponents: normalization.

Both PPHP CEO Vincent Russell and the affiliate’s associate medical director, Dr. Meera Shah, spoke separately about their roles within the organization, why they were attracted to that kind of work, and how they do their jobs in the midst of a national political firestorm currently raging around reproductive rights, thanks to restrictive abortion laws being passed in several states and subsequent fears that an increasingly conservative U.S. Supreme Court could overturn the groundbreaking Roe v. Wade ruling, and the protections it offers to women’s rights.

Attendees expressed many of the same sentiments as well, as they ate hors d’oeuvres and sipped wine in the garden adjacent to the building’s side entrance, and slipped inside to browse paintings and other works that had been donated for auction at the event.

Another common thread, expressed by Planned Parenthood employees and supporters alike, were personal stories about their connection to Planned Parenthood.

Mr. Russell has been with Planned Parenthood’s Hudson Peconic affiliate for four years, and his story is a good example of how the organization reaches people from all walks of life. After graduating from West Point in 1996 and serving in the military for several years after that at Fort Eustis in Virginia, he was looking for an executive position. He got a call from a recruiter telling him she’d found a job she thought matched his skill sets—but then paused before revealing what it was, adding that it was “a little bit of a controversial position,” he recalled.

“So I said, ‘Please tell me what it is,’” Mr. Russell said. “And she said it was Planned Parenthood. And my response was, ‘There’s nothing controversial about Planned Parenthood.’ I view Planned Parenthood as being crucial to our public health care network and system.”

Mr. Russell came by this view from firsthand experience. He said he remembered going to Planned Parenthood years earlier, when he was dating his now ex-wife, accompanying her to pick up her birth control. It was a part of his life during his time in the U.S. Army as well.

“I saw many soldiers going to Planned Parenthood,” he said. “They often sought care there rather than on post, because they wanted the non-judgmental, safe, confidential care they knew they would receive there.”

Mr. Russell speaks of his job in terms of service rather than work. The people who walk through the doors of Planned Parenthood vary greatly in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, income status, and career, but more often than not, he says, they are there because other health care providers cannot meet their needs. It’s what makes him so passionate about his work, he says.

“What is so great about working at Planned Parenthood is that every day, we get up and get out of bed, and know we’re doing good work and serving communities that need us and are very vulnerable.

“We’re a non-judgmental provider of care, regardless of ability to pay,” he continued. “The patient population we serve would fall through the cracks if not for Planned Parenthood. In communities where Planned Parenthood has been and is no longer there, there’s been an increase in STI’s, HIV and unintended pregnancies.”

Those cracks have been widening, thanks to efforts by anti-abortion activists who have been bolstered by the increase of conservative justices and lawmakers during the Trump era, with legislation and court rulings creating additional barriers to providing safe and legal abortions.

The Hudson Peconic affiliate is largely shielded from those types of movements, thanks to the passage, in January, of the Reproductive Health Act in Albany. That was a sort of preemptive strike meant to codify Roe v. Wade as settled law in New York State, at least.

But what is happening on a national scale has ripple effects, not only for patients in every part of the country but for reproductive health care providers as well.

That’s why many doctors who provide abortion care as one of the many services they offer also consider themselves activists, as does Dr. Shah. She is a board certified provider of family medicine in New York but has also worked in other states with much more restrictive abortion laws, including Texas.

She does not mince words when it comes to how she feels about what is happening in the country right now, and the unfair position both doctors and patients have been put in because of recent laws and restrictions. The politicizing of reproductive health frustrates her, more so, she says, because of what it means for her patients rather than herself, but she admits it affects her as well.

“Access to reproductive health services is an incredibly important part of an individual’s life,” she said. “Recently, we’ve seen a lot of attacks against individuals seeking reproductive health. As a physician, I know how important is it to have access to an IUD or contraceptive pills for people who aren’t desiring pregnancy at that time in their lives. It’s super important.

“And I also think abortion is incredibly normal. One out of four women in their lifetime seek an abortion. It’s just something that’s a normal part of an individual’s reproductive life span. So we have to protect it.

“I understand that some people don’t believe in abortion, and that’s okay,” she continued. “But you can’t take that right away from another individual.”

The politicization of reproductive health has wide-ranging consequences. Dr. Shah admitted that, in certain social settings, when people inquire about what she does for a living, she will sometimes pause before revealing that part of her job description includes providing abortion care.

“It’s unfortunate,” she said. “A cardiologist doesn’t have to pause before they say they’re a cardiologist. It’s not fair, because I provide health care just like they do. It’s not different, in my mind.”

She described the attacks on abortion rights as “really upsetting,” and said that while she feels privileged to practice medicine in a state “that respects and honors an individual’s right to bodily autonomy,” that “it shouldn’t matter what zip code you live in. You should be able to access whatever you need to wherever you live.”

She said she has seen firsthand how ease of access to safe abortion care can vary wildly dependent on zip codes in the U.S. During a brief period when she provided abortion care in Texas, Dr. Shah said she was legally required to perform and describe ultrasounds to patients seeking an abortion, and also had to read them a state-mandated script that she said “had some lies in it.”

“It says that abortion can cause breast cancer. Legally, I have to say that, so I do. But, medically, I know it’s not true.”

When asked how she feels about being asked to exist in that seemingly contradictory space, she expressed concern for her patients. “It’s unfair to both the patient and the provider, but I always take it back to the patient,” she said. “I have to do all of this, and then I have to tell them they have to come back in 24 hours, because there’s a state-mandated waiting period.”

Dr. Shah says that all these mandates do “nothing” to safeguard reproductive health care. Instead, she says, what they do is disproportionately negatively affect women of color and low-income status—patients who may have traveled a long way from a rural community to seek care, and perhaps cannot return the following day because they don’t have child care or can’t afford it, or cannot take another day off from work.

“We really have to pay attention to who is being marginalized,” she said.

While the efforts to restrict abortion access have been frustrating and upsetting, both Dr. Shah and Mr. Russell agree that the response to those efforts has been encouraging to see for everyone associated with Planned Parenthood. Mr. Russell said he has witnessed an up-tick in support, not only financially, but from an advocacy and activism standpoint, since restrictive abortion laws and bans have been passed in states like Alabama and Missouri, and he likened it to the surge of support following the 2016 presidential election.

Dr. Shah has seen that as well, and has been encouraged by it, and also sees it as an opportunity to keep crusading.

“It’s really opened people’s eyes to the realities of reproductive health care access,” she said. “And I want to encourage people to vote, to donate, to show up and talk about abortion like it’s normal, because it is.”

For some in attendance on Saturday, their eyes have been open, for decades, to the importance of reproductive health care access.

Artists Monte Farber and Amy Zerner, who both contributed pieces of work to the benefit, have been supporters of Planned Parenthood for nearly half a century. Ms. Zerner, an East Hampton High School graduate, said she remembered going to Planned Parenthood for the first time when she was an arts school student in 1969.

“They really helped me get things together in that arena,” she said. They say the organization has been a crucial part of their 45 years together as a “childless by choice” married couple.

For his part, Mr. Farber said supporting an organization like Planned Parenthood has always felt natural for him.

“I’ve always considered myself a feminist, so anything I can do to help women become more powerful is great,” he said, speaking after his wife had finished, while standing behind her, his hands placed gently on her shoulders. He smiled as Ms. Zerner spoke about her art, and its focus on goddesses and female empowerment. The piece she put in the benefit, titled “Goddess on the Moon,” was in keeping with that theme. “The moon represents our femininity,” she explained.

Art like the work Ms. Zerner and many others contributed will benefit the organization and allow it to do more work that will directly affect patients in Suffolk County, whether they visit Planned Parenthood’s closest center in Riverhead, or are part of the many community outreach programs it provides.

From prenatal care and abortion care, to hormone therapy for transgender and gender non-conforming patients, to menopause care, STI testing and treatment, birth control options and other treatment options sought by teens who make the choice to proceed without parental consent, Planned Parenthood offers a wide spectrum of services, regardless of ability to pay, that can be difficult to find from other providers.

The organization also touts its educational and community outreach programs. For many public schools, Planned Parenthood provides sexual education services—in Suffolk, it has a grant to do just that—often because there is no state-mandate for who should provide that service, how it should be provided, or that it is even required to be provided at all. Sexual education services cover a wide spectrum of topics, from birth control and protection against STIs to conversations around proper consent.

Addressing a wide range of reproductive health concerns and needs in an efficient, caring manner is at the core of what Planned Parenthood does, its leaders say.

“I think one of the things that makes us stand out is availability,” said Tricia Fleming, the director of communications for Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic. “Most of the time you can get a same-day appointment.”

That commitment to availability goes beyond appointments, she explained. Education and outreach efforts are Planned Parenthood’s way of meeting people where they are, and building relationships with the community. They are a presence at health fairs and other community events, often opening their centers—including the Riverhead location—for food and game nights for teens, where they can hang out, have something to eat, and get a tour of the facility.

The affiliate also has a mobile unit, dubbed Smartwheels, which goes out in the community and provides HIV and STI testing and some forms of contraception. Of course, Planned Parenthood cannot provide these additional outreach services without financial support. Whether it’s hosting a teen night, covering the cost of a patient who does not have insurance, or paying for a bus trip to Albany for advocacy work, the importance of fundraising to Planned Parenthood’s overarching mission cannot be overstated, according to people within the organization. And coming together for events like Saturday’s benefit, with people working together, is a reminder that everyone who supports Planned Parenthood’s values is on the same page, especially at a time when it can seem like other people are empowered to fight against them, and being clear and proactive about what they do seems more important than ever.

“It helps us bridge gaps and be able to continue to provide health services, educational programs, and advocacy efforts,” Mr. Russell said. “But even more important than the financial aspect is having like-minded individuals come out and share in this. And it’s also a show of support to staff and patients, about how much people do care and how they will support the organization.”

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Murdering babies is not healthcare.
By Preliator Lives (436), Obamavillie on Jun 20, 19 8:23 AM
Nobody on the right is in any position to debate what is and isn't healthcare seeing as they haven't been able to get any bill passed in Congress to warrant such claims.
By johnj (1024), Westhampton on Jun 20, 19 11:10 AM
God gave me my rights, not you or any other man. Murder is murder, in or out of the womb. If you think otherwise...well your genocidal ship sailed was sunk in 1945.
By Preliator Lives (436), Obamavillie on Jun 20, 19 12:22 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By Polandspring (96), Southampton on Jun 20, 19 1:27 PM
2 members liked this comment
By that logic, then PL should believe that God gave women their rights to have control over their own bodies. That is, if he believes women have any rights at all, which I am starting to doubt.
By johnj (1024), Westhampton on Jun 20, 19 2:09 PM
By that logic jj God delegates his absolute authority, which he doesn't. God works all things according to the counsel of his will. He governs all human plans and acts. Mankind has no control over anything just as women have no absolute control over their own body.

If you believe that then you also believe what the framers meant when they wrote about unalienable rights. when they included the phrase "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are ...more
By Po Boy (5266), Water Mill on Jun 20, 19 3:28 PM
If life begins at conception, god is the biggest abortionist of them all.
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8216), HAMPTON BAYS on Jun 20, 19 8:29 PM
And if you believe that, the biggest murderer of them all.
By Po Boy (5266), Water Mill on Jun 21, 19 11:17 AM
God kills way more people in the bible than satan does, just saying.
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8216), HAMPTON BAYS on Jun 21, 19 11:20 AM
Yeah, I don't think the bible makes too many specific references to satan, your version may be different. Mine is often referred to as, "the good book."
By Po Boy (5266), Water Mill on Jun 21, 19 12:15 PM
It certainly does depend on your version and what "specific references" mean but satan is pretty central to many parts of the bible, and off-hand I can think of the books of genesis, revelations, job, ezekiel...
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8216), HAMPTON BAYS on Jun 21, 19 12:50 PM
When was the last time a theme killed someone?

God kills way more people in the bible than satan does, just saying.
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (6660), HAMPTON BAYS on Jun 21, 19 11:20 AM
Jun 21, 19 1:27 PM appended by Po Boy
I'm not saying satan isn't referenced, it is simply reference more as a theme of good vs. evil, or an adversary of God that takes many forms.
By Po Boy (5266), Water Mill on Jun 21, 19 1:27 PM
Didn't satan kill Job's family as part of the "She's All That" wager between him and god?
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8216), HAMPTON BAYS on Jun 21, 19 1:48 PM
That's what the good book says!

So, following your logic, we should be worshiping satan instead of god?
By Po Boy (5266), Water Mill on Jun 23, 19 7:05 PM
No, I don't think I said that.
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8216), HAMPTON BAYS on Jun 23, 19 10:43 PM
So, in your view, god is the biggest abortionist of them all, by default, the biggest murder and killed more people than satan in the bible.

What are we left to conclude from your sentiment?
By Po Boy (5266), Water Mill on Jun 24, 19 8:51 AM
There was an "if" statement before that, so the latter is only true if you buy into the former.

I do not, so the latter doesn't apply to me.
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8216), HAMPTON BAYS on Jun 24, 19 9:31 AM
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations"

~ Jeremiah 1:5, NIV
By Po Boy (5266), Water Mill on Jun 24, 19 11:08 AM
"Life just isn't as precious as you all seem to think it is."

-god, probably
By Fore1gnBornHBgrown (8216), HAMPTON BAYS on Jun 24, 19 11:15 AM
So why aren’t you up in arms about the treatment of children at the border? Or lunch programs to feed hungry school kids? So it’s after they are born , you could care less?
By Fred s (3311), Southampton on Jun 24, 19 11:16 AM
1 member liked this comment
Because I know the REAL story behind how children are treated at the border - not the media spin version or the version you'd have us believe.

And who says I'm not for lunch programs to feed deserving kids?

Nice attempted tug at the heart strings though...
By Po Boy (5266), Water Mill on Jun 24, 19 2:06 PM
The REAL story? Well tell it then. As to to the tugging at the heart strings, isn’t that exactly what you are doing?
By Fred s (3311), Southampton on Jun 24, 19 2:16 PM
I know what I meant when I said the REAL story, but since you made the initial accusation, how about clarification if you want more. Care to elaborate on "up in arms about the treatment of children at the border?"
By Po Boy (5266), Water Mill on Jul 2, 19 12:51 PM
Can you show me the document from god that gave you you rights? Take your time
By Fred s (3311), Southampton on Jun 20, 19 1:12 PM
Play your games by yourself. As far as I am concerned the people who support abortion are no different then the people who wrote the Nuremberg laws and deserving of the same place in history. Baby murder isn't healthcare.
By Preliator Lives (436), Obamavillie on Jun 21, 19 7:57 AM
Do you know the first thing about Planned Parenthood? Did you even read the article? PP is more than abortions. Abortions account for only 3-percent nationally of the work they do. Education and healthcare for uninsured or underinsured people. Pregnancy prevention/birth control, menopause care, screenings, STI testing/treatment. Outreach programs to educate young adults. These are all crucial healthcare matters and what comprises the other 97-percent of PP's mission.
By MrsD (53), Hampton Bays on Jun 20, 19 1:31 PM
2 members liked this comment
That’s an intentionally misleading self published PP number that is based on spending, not treatment. In 2018, PP provided services to 2.4 million people and performed 332,757 abortions. So the actual number is closer to 14% of their services are abortions.
By localEH (426), East Hampton on Jun 20, 19 5:02 PM
They are a for profit organization who sold baby parts for money. They don't need a dime of public money and there are other providers for the other services. PP is a sacred cow of the Left that simply launders public money back to public officials in their pocket.
By Preliator Lives (436), Obamavillie on Jun 21, 19 8:06 AM
MrsD, I think they are implying it’s up to men to make those decisions. I can’t for the life of me see why they are so involved in something that doesn’t involve them.
By Fred s (3311), Southampton on Jun 20, 19 1:59 PM
2 members liked this comment
Thanks; my comment was supposed to be a direct reply to PL's initial comment but it seems to have landed further down the chain...oh well, #firstworldproblems
By MrsD (53), Hampton Bays on Jun 20, 19 4:36 PM
"abortion is incredibly normal" ponder that one for a bit! Absolute barbaric ghouls, killing a child in utero is a far stretch from reproductive health.
By bigfresh (4653), north sea on Jun 20, 19 5:20 PM
Kudos. Keep raising that money to support Planned Parenthood. You’re going to need it. Trump will now cut almost $60 million in taxpayer funding for it. Sorry baby killers....elections have consequences.
By DiseaseDiocese (663), Riverhead on Jun 21, 19 7:51 AM
@ Preliator Lives


"They [Planned Parenthood] are a for profit organization who sold baby parts for money.

Another preposterous lie by a true believer whose spectacular dishonesty exemplifies his (and his colleagues') utter contempt for the TRUTH wherever it contradicts their fanatical BELIEF.*

Mindless political zealotry of this sort - - - in combination with irrational religious faith - - - is a greater danger ...more
By highhatsize (4213), East Quogue on Jun 21, 19 8:56 AM
1 member liked this comment
Classic case of what we've come to expect from you hat. Yet another example of taking what someone wrote, changing what they wrote, attacking them for what they didn't write, sprinkling it with a unrelated source all while flavoring it with personal insults and your own brand of zealotry we've come to expect from the bitter clingers. Despicable.

Planned Parenthood did in fact, "sell baby parts for money." Your source focuses on "profit," and that's NOT what PL wrote. From your source:

Planned ...more
By Po Boy (5266), Water Mill on Jun 21, 19 12:06 PM
@ Po Boy

Casuistry upon casuistry.

Preliator Lives' claim that Planned Parenthood is a "for profit organization" is a LIE. It's a registered 501(c)(3) NON-PROFIT.

YOU, Po Boy, by your duplicitous apologia for Preliator Lives' lie, make yourself a complicit LIAR (an identity that your comments over the years on this forum has cemented.)

Further, Preliator Lives' description of Planned Parenthood as, "a FOR PROFIT organization who sold baby parts for money." ...more
By highhatsize (4213), East Quogue on Jun 22, 19 1:09 AM
1 member liked this comment
Which Part did I lie? I simply pointed out the err of your deceptive failed analogy that focues on "profit" when PL said "sold baby parts." Planned Parenthood DOES sell parts of a fetus.

How can someone be a "complicit LIAR" when I clearnly stated "While technically a non profit organization," then, made another FACTUAL statement of the former CEO earning $7000,000.

These facts apparently annoy you enough to fabricate lies about me, which leads one to wonder of the pseudologia ...more
Jun 23, 19 6:41 PM appended by Po Boy
Typo correction: The former CEO of Planned Parenthood earned $700,000 per year, as previously noted.
By Po Boy (5266), Water Mill on Jun 22, 19 6:41 PM
@ Po Boy

I am content to leave it to forum members to read the above exchange and to decide for themselves whether or not you and Preliator Lives lied about Planned Parenthood's non-profit status (It is, in fact, a 501(c)3 charity.) and whether or not you deliberately mislead readers to believe that Planned Parenthood sold "baby parts" for a profit. (In fact, it does not.)

However, while on the topic of deception, it must be noted as well that your reference to fetal tissue ...more
By highhatsize (4213), East Quogue on Jun 23, 19 5:21 PM
Planned Parenthood did in fact, "sell baby parts for money." Your source focuses on "profit," and that's NOT what PL wrote. From your source:

Planned Parenthood receives reasonable reimbursement for its tissue donation services, as expressly permitted by law."

While technically a non profit organization, the former Planned Parenthood CEO, Cecile Richards, earned $700,000 per year. I'll leave you and the readers to conclude whether Planned Parenthood is a "for profit ...more
Jun 23, 19 6:45 PM appended by Po Boy
Which Part did I lie?
By Po Boy (5266), Water Mill on Jun 23, 19 6:45 PM
The part where you said you have an open mind.politafact rates that mostly false.
By Fred s (3311), Southampton on Jun 23, 19 7:03 PM
As the paragraph above that statement notes, Planned Parenthood went to alot of trouble to declare video as edited, when it later was proven not to be.

"It simply leaves those with an open mind to reasonably conclude that there is likely more going on than what Planned Parenthood would like the public to see" is absolutely accurate.

By Po Boy (5266), Water Mill on Jun 23, 19 7:09 PM
Killing children in utero and selling their body parts, indefensible by anyone with a conscience and morals.
By bigfresh (4653), north sea on Jun 23, 19 5:49 PM
I’m surprised it bothers you then.
By Fred s (3311), Southampton on Jun 23, 19 6:32 PM
My comment got deleted but let me just say to PL and looks like BF and PO Boy....

No one has the right to tell a woman (or anyone ) what to do with their body. EVER. You and the government can stay away from my reproductive rights. Planned Parenthood Saves lives, mine included, daily. Screening test, birth control (to stop unwanted pregnancies...so they don't...wait for it...get abortions), STD testing and treatment...the list goes on. A small - very small percent of what they do is abortions. ...more
By Polandspring (96), Southampton on Jun 26, 19 2:40 PM
Other than a portrayal of facts about Planned Parenthood in general Poland, what exactly did I write to be included as anti-women and anti-Christian in your view?
By Po Boy (5266), Water Mill on Jul 2, 19 12:57 PM
1 member liked this comment
Didn't mean to like that.
By being anti-abortion you are anti-woman. Because the majority of people who are anti-abortion are so because they like to control things. How many unwanted babies have you adopted or supported? How many women have you offered to help with medical bills, day care, food, etc.? I am willing to bet zero. You don't care about the woman and what she has to go through, you don't want her making sound decisions for her body and for her life. Planned Parenthood isn't all ...more
By Polandspring (96), Southampton on Jul 15, 19 3:46 PM