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Timely Planned Parenthood move in Stamford sends a message

September 22, 2018

A sexual assault accuser upends the confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee who’s likely to erode women’s reproductive rights. At the same time, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England expands into primary care at its Stamford health care center.

Any connection between the two? You bet — and it was on display Thursday night as Cecile Richards, who just ended a stupendous 12-year term as president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, appeared in the state at The Connecticut Forum in Hartford.

Make no mistake, as Amanda Skinner sees it, the Stamford move isn’t just about making and keeping (mostly) women’s bodies more sound. It’s an act of empowerment.

“There’s a direct connection between Planned Parenthood being in the community and providing the health care services we provide, and people in the community finding their voice and building their skills and advocacy,” said Skinner, who became head of the New Haven-based region in mid-2017. “They learn about reproductive health care and they learn about consent and they learn how to become a peer educator.”

It’s personal empowerment and that matters to patients’ health. It’s also political empowerment at a time when women’s reproductive freedom is under siege from a White House hellbent on moving backwards by a century or so.

Planned Parenthood even helps patients register to vote, Skinner said.

She insists it’s nonpartisan inside the walls of those health centers. “Health care is politically neutral. Health care should not be controversial, it’s regular old health care, it’s constitutionally protected health care,” Skinner said. “But I think people having access to health care and having access to an organization that provides information and advocacy is good for themselves and good for the community.”

Yes, that includes access to abortions, and to information about abortions, which account for about 10 percent of services in the region. President Donald Trump and other Republicans, notably state Sen. Joe Markley, the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor, would like to limit that choice and that access.

And so we have a confluence of economics, politics and health care. Economics because Planned Parenthood, by expanding services where they’re needed, in Stamford — after an expansion into Hartford for primary care — is making the state a better and more vibrant place.

After a sort of soft launch of primary care, with three new advanced practice registered nurses in Stamford added to a staff of about 40, Stamford center now has 83 primary care patients. They’re mostly poor, mostly women, mostly of child-bearing age and it’s a good bet many didn’t have a regular doctor’s office to visit before, let alone one that educated them on their rights and powers.

Within a year, Stamford will have the same number as Hartford, nearly 500 — still a small percentage of the nearly 70,000 patients in the region who use Planned Parenthood for reproductive care.

The organization is growing primary care as part of its very broad mission despite — maybe because of — the siege. And no one embodies the activism behind that philosophy more than Richards, who spoke about women’s rights on a panel of powerful women at the Forum.

”Women are half the labor force and yet we are still trying to fit ourselves into an economy that was built by men, for men,” Richard said in the discussion, along with author Roxane Gay and Sallie

Krawchecheck a top Wall Street executive.

”This is about a lot more than fighting Donald Trump,” Richards said. “I hope we have higher aspirations than simply moving him out of office.”

Skinner brought a group of Connecticut Planned Parenthood employees to see the event, where she and Richards greeted each other warmly as fellow warriors.

Richards’ background is as an organizer, not a health care provider. Skinner is an APRN-midwife and also holds an MBA, both degrees from Yale. Before joining Planned Parenthood she worked as a midwife in Waterbury, then as a consultant, then as leader of the population health initiatives at Yale-New Haven.

Now she’s both a medical practitioner and a health care professional — the new model of executive, sort of like a 6’9” basketball forward who can shoot threes, drive and rebound. “You can’t do just one thing anymore,” Richards told me, talking about Skinner and the new model of advocacy.

Skinner said she took special inspiration from Richards talking about women driving ahead before the world thinks they’re ready. That was in answer to a question Richards answered about what she learned from her mother, the late former Texas Governor Ann Richards.

“Her biggest piece of advice was always, ‘This is the only life you get, so do it all now. Don’t wait for people to tap you on the shoulder,’” Richards said. “She never waited her turn. She would feel like this moment, it’s really an Ann Richards moment....Mom, it’s finally happening.”

We all know that means women running for office in droves in 2018 but it also means Planned Parenthood expanding medical services at a time when it’s under siege, when the medical system is broken.

“Whatever you’re doing, do more,” Richards said, in a slogan that should be Connecticut’s guide to exiting the economic doldrums.

The national battles over women’s reproductive rights could hit Connecticut sooner than we think. “It’s critically important that we focus locally,” said Skinner, who went to college in Texas and once had her picture in the New York Times shaking Ann Richards’ hand.

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