By Todd Cohen
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — When it opened its first health center in 1983 in Hillsborough, Planned Parenthood of Central North Carolina was greeted with “open arms” by many people in the community “who really saw the need for our services,” says Janet Colm, the agency’s founding CEO.
But that event also attracted picketers opposed to the family planning services the agency offers.
That mixed response has followed Planned Parenthood ever since and continues to represent a challenge as the agency prepares to celebrate its 30th anniversary.
In fact, the local affiliate has selected “The enraged but not yet engaged” as its theme for 2013, which also will mark the 40th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that found the constitutional right to privacy extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion.
Starting with a breakfast January 16 at the Eno River Unitarian-Universalist Fellowship in Durham that commemorated the Roe v. Wade anniversary, and concluding with an event in October to mark the anniversary of opening the Hillsborough health center, Planned Parenthood is working to recruit new patients, supporters and donors, says Laurie Scott, vice president for development.
Operating with an annual budget of nearly $5 million and a staff of 66 employees, the agency served 10,000 male and female patients at its health centers in Durham, Fayetteville and Chapel Hill in the fiscal year ended June 30, and attracted 94,000 visitors to its website.
Serving 25 counties, the Planned Parenthood affiliate provides services ranging from cancer screening, treatment for sexually transmitted diseases and abortion services to breast health, pregnancy testing and education.
It also provides training each year for nearly 100 young women and men on topics that include sex and sexuality, life skills, and substance abuse so they can educate their peers on those topics.
And Planned Parenthood is actively engaged in advocacy and public policy work, sharing with Raleigh-based Planned Parenthood Health Systems a database with over 114,000 “advocates” for an email alert system.
Advocacy continues to play an important role for the agency in a field fraught with controversy, particularly over the issues of family planning, contraception and abortion.
In 2011, for example, after state lawmakers passed a bill to cut off all state funding to Planned Parenthood, the agency obtained a court injunction to stop the law from going into effect, and eventually won the case, an effort that preserved roughly $200,000 in funding.
And in 2012, after state lawmakers passed a bill that barred state funds for family planning from going to nonprofits, a move that cost Planned Parenthood $155,000, the affiliate applied directly to the federal government for funds, and secured $426,000 for its Durham health center.
“It was a big win for Planned Parenthood, but a really, really big win for Durham County and the women who rely on us for low-cost family planning services,” Colm says.
The affiliate, which generates 62 percent of its revenue from patient fees and 5 percent from government funds, counts on fundraising for most of the remainder.
It has received fundraising “challenges” from donors who have pledged matching funds to stimulate more gifts of $1,000 and up, and help enlist more “sustaining” donors who give $25 or more a month.
And after Dallas-based Komen for the Cure announced earlier this year it no longer would fund Planned Parenthood, a decision it quickly reversed, the affiliate landed 700 donors without any solicitation, although Colm emphasizes the affiliate “never had a fight with Komen,” which does “good work and important work.”
The problem, she ways, was “the bullies who bullied them into making that decision.”
The funding changes and controversies of recent years underscore the value of Planned Parenthood, Colm says.
“One in five American women has been a Planned Parenthood client,” she says. “We owe it to the public that we’re going to be here no matter what. And we’re going to care for people no matter what.”