December 10, 2012

What Really Happens at Family Planning Centers?

Find out what research says about what really happens in family planning centers, including Planned Parenthood.

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Black and white photo of a baby reading a book titled "sexual reproduction"

Black and white photo of a baby reading a book titled "sexual reproduction"

In the wake of the 2012 election, I’m sure many of you are aware of the controversy involving the cut for funding to Planned Parenthood and other family planning centers, as well as the differing claims about the services that these types of places provide. Listening to different politicians discuss this topic, it became apparent to me that I needed to do some research. Once I completed my research, I decided to share my results to help answer questions others many have that are similar to mine.

What Is Family Planning?

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines family planning as something that “allows individuals and couples to anticipate and attain their desired number of children and the spacing and timing of their births. It is achieved through use of contraceptive methods and the treatment of involuntary infertility.” The term “family planning” does not mean “abortion.” WHO states that family planning reduces the need for women to have “unsafe abortions” in addition to reinforcing people’s rights to determine the number and spacing of their children.

What Is the Focus of Family Planning Centers?

One focus of family planning centers is education and services for reproductive and sexual health, and other preventative health care services. For example, the mission statement of one family planning center states “the Family Planning Center is committed to assuring that the people of our community have access to high quality, affordable and confidential reproductive health care, counseling, and sexuality education.  We support every person’s right to make voluntary, informed decisions about sexuality and reproduction.” Websites for family planning centers and councils have many links to other areas of their websites that provide information about contraception, Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs; also referring to as Sexually Transmitted Diseases), teen health and sexual and reproductive health for both men and women. The Planned Parenthood website also contains areas with information about body image, relationships, general healthcare and separate sections for teenagers, parents and educators.

Are There Specific Benefits to Family Planning?

According to the World Health Organization, family planning “is essential to securing the well-being and autonomy of women, while supporting the health and development of communities.” Family planning allows for the spacing and delay of pregnancies, which decreases infant mortality as well as protects women that are at increased risk for health issues and death during pregnancy, such as adolescents and older women. Rates of unintended pregnancies also decrease when people receive family planning services, which in turn decreases the need for abortions.

Family planning also educates the population and enables people to make informed choices about their sexual and reproductive health. The education provided by these centers also helps to decrease the prevalence of STIs, including HIV and AIDS. Family planning centers and websites also provide a great deal of information about different STIs, their symptoms, testing and treatment.

Family planning centers provide services to people that do not have insurance, but they also help people do not know that they qualify for insurance such as Medicaid take the first steps to obtaining insurance that will cover contraceptive services and related medical care, such as treatment for STIs.

How Many People Use Family Planning Centers?

According to the Guttmacher Policy Review, the nationwide network of more than 8,000 publicly funded family planning centers provides contraceptive and related services to more than seven million women a year. One out of four women use family planning centers to obtain contraception and one in three women that are tested for HIV are tested at family planning centers. Six out of ten women who obtain care at a family planning center describe it as their usual source of medical care. In addition, many who use family planning centers such as Planned Parenthood say that these centers are their only form of healthcare due to insurance issues and lack of income.

What Types of Services Are Provided?

Family planning centers provide a wide range of services that pertain to sexual health and education. Family planning websites mainly provide information about sexual and reproductive health, and list the locations of family planning centers. The most common services that the centers provide are STI testing and treatment, contraception for both men and women (which includes emergency contraception), pregnancy tests, cancer screening and testing (including HPV and Pap Tests) and counseling. Though Planned Parenthood does not provide mammograms, they do perform gynecological exams, including breast exams, and refer women to other facilities to have mammograms performed.

In addition, family planning centers funded by the portion of the Public Health Service Act referred to as Title X are required to provide a number of related preventive health services such as: patient education and counseling; breast and pelvic examinations; breast and cervical cancer screening according to nationally recognized standards of care; Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) and Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) prevention education, counseling, testing and referral; and pregnancy diagnosis and counseling.

How Often Are the Different Services Used?

The frequency of the different services depends on the family planning center. In general, the most frequently provided service is STI testing and treatment, which is followed fairly closely by different contraception procedures. Statistics for Planned Parenthood show that in 2010, 38% of the services provided were the testing and treatment of STIs, 33.5% of services were related to obtaining some form of contraception, 14.5% of services were devoted to cancer screening, 10.4% of services were devoted to pregnancy tests and prenatal services, 3% of services were abortion procedures, and 0.6% of services were designated as “other.” The total number of all services provided by Planned Parenthood in 2010 was 11,003,366.

How Can I Be Sure the Information I’m Getting Is Correct?

Check and double check the information you read about family planning online; it is always better to be skeptical and do more research instead of accepting everything you read. When I first began to research for this article, I had a little difficulty finding information that I was positive was correct and unbiased. When looking up controversial topics, its a good idea to find out who is sponsoring the website. Websites that are funded by groups that support one side over the other are likely to have a biased point of view and possibly skew facts. The best sources for information are government websites and professional organizations devoted to health, such as the Center for Disease Control and, of course, Kinsey Confidential!