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An exit interview with Sue Idtensohn of Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando

Idtensohn talks contraception, empowerment and retirement amid the current political attacks on reproductive rights

Photo: Rob Bartlett, License: N/A

Rob Bartlett

Sue Idtensohn: I challenge anyone [to] tell me what other organization faces the challenges that we face, and it's clearly around women, clearly around women's issues. I don't know any other legislation that's ever been talked about forcing a doctor to show a man what his prostate looks like on a sonogram machine. I don't know any other doctor. There are not people protesting in front of HIV clinics, not people protesting in front of STD clinics. They're protesting in front of Planned Parenthood. Everything we do is all about prevention. We're trying to prevent unintended pregnancies, we're trying to prevent abortions, we're trying to make sure that everybody is healthy. I have always been appalled that someone can come and tell me what I can or cannot do, within reason. Particularly when they come and tell me what I can or cannot do when it comes to my body. They're going to tell me what kind of life I can live, the decisions I'm going to make? I am absolutely determined to tell them that they're not going to get away with it.

To what extent has that constant pressure influenced the last 14 years of your life?

I think you have to put it in the context of your family as well. It's very stressful personally, but I have to make sure that I modulate that stress, so I don't carry it over to my relationships, I don't carry it over to my staff, because I have 35 people that work for me over at that clinic. And if I want to make sure that there's a sane head running this organization, that I put this life into perspective, that you stand up for your principles, that you stand up for your beliefs. I'm one of those people who will stand up for those beliefs, but there are other people who feel as strongly as I do that won't stand on a corner with a sign saying “Support Planned Parenthood.” I do. And I think that has to do with how you view your job and how you view your life. I've always said, ‘I hope that someone knew that I was here.'

The sense of being forthright when you're right, that's got to mean something.

It's very emboldening to me, because I do know that we're right. We're standing on the side of the majority of Americans who feel very strongly about it. Planned Parenthood has an approval rating of 68 percent. Congress has an approval rating of what? I'm supposed to be worried about Congress? The problem we find with confrontational people, and also media people to an extent, is that they like to inflame the topic.

But that inflammation has worked, at least to some degree, in your favor. The Facebook response alone to the Komen decision earlier this year sparked a firestorm. Also, how else would we have heard about holding an aspirin in between your knees as the preferred old-man means of contraception? Women are angry.

They're doing that in a sense anonymously through the social networks, because one out of every three women in this country have had an abortion, and we have asked them to speak up, but in the past most of that was confidential. Now that there's an outlet for women to go ahead and speak up about it, I think it's an incredible development. I think that as Americans we have always wanted to do that. But we've been tamped down by whatever confines we live in, whether it's religious or political. I think it's a terrific move. And I think it's another reason that Planned Parenthood needs to have young people, needs to have young men and young women involved, because they're really going to be setting whatever the charter is for reproductive health, for gay rights, for the environment, for all of the things they're going to be living with for the rest of their years.

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