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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

I think what's happened in a good way is that women are much more of a part of the bylaws of this country. I love to go every year to Olympia High School and I talk about the ethics of abortion, and they bring in a priest as well. But when I look out at that group, I am just so thrilled that they're all from everywhere. Some of them may be WASP conservatives, but if you ask the question if they would be upset if one of their black friends were discriminated against at a restaurant, they all raise their hands. That is progress. When I ask, ‘Would you be upset if your girlfriend got into a university and you didn't; you got into a community college?' They say no, they don't think so. I mean, you couldn't even ask those questions 15 years ago. What happens with real movements is they become part of the fabric.

But then you have what we're experiencing now. Even I, in my wildest conspiracy theories, would never have imagined we'd be talking about birth control as a variable in 2012, and transvaginal ultrasounds. And it's men, many of whom don't know the organs about which they are talking.

It's the same for women. We don't live in your male bodies. We have to make sure that people know that women are the only group that is being intruded upon for medical decisions. You know, who else is? It's a medical issue. The pill is over 50 years old. It's been studied. But because it is wrapped around the culture of the '60s and free love, and for the first time women were able to take a product that would not tie them to having families of eight or 10 kids. For the first time ever, women had an opportunity to do what they always wanted to do, their mothers wanted to do, their grandmothers wanted to do. Now we're living in a time when we're able to do that with this terrific product. And now we're talking about that 50 years later. And it's because we have legislators who are men and that are talking about this stuff, because they want women to get back in the kitchen. It's an attack again on the way that we're living our lives.

It sounds like an attack on evolution.

I don't know why they're so tone deaf to that. Again, I think women are not represented enough. They've been arguing about contraception, they've been arguing about tampons. Again, I think it's because it's about women, and they think we're going to put up with this. As I said before about the young women, I think what we've done as older women is when we've come in contact with them, we've told them, ‘You have a voice. Don't ever let anyone tell you that you don't.' And so that voice is being expressed. It also gets back to the fact that we have to do a better job electing people who represent our voices, because regardless of how you feel about an issue, they're going to forever make legislative rules that are going to affect us for a very long time.

When you came into your position in Orlando in 1998 following an economic development stint with the Gov. Lawton Chiles administration (1992-1996), what did you see?

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