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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

What else has changed since you started?

Women are being personally attacked now. And they're being told what they can and cannot do. That's new within the past five years. People who stand outside my clinic and people who picket my home are absolutely on one track, and that track is to outlaw abortion. It's also about controlling women. There's a segment of this population that thinks we've gotten out of hand. Forty-five percent of women in Florida that are having babies are unmarried. That's a huge comment: ‘I want to be a mom and I think I can handle a child appropriately. I don't need a man. I need his sperm, but I really don't need him.' And everybody on the conservative side of this issue thinks that that's a degradation of family values. I'll tell you what family values are. Family values are not bringing your 8-year-old to Planned Parenthood and protesting with a shirt that says, “I hate gays and you're a baby killer.” So I have absolutely no compunction about ignoring these people. And then we have men out there protesting.

Why does it seem like it's always the men leading the protests?

They tell women that we don't have the capacity to think. We can't make tough decisions. Well, sure we can. The other thing that upsets me the most is that this is a plural religious society. I don't necessarily have to believe in God or Jesus, and you're telling me that I'm going to go to hell? Good, I'll see all my friends there.

It's also a plural gender society. For the first time men are figuring out that women don't piss through their vaginas, apparently. For the first time, men are figuring out that a clitoris is not the same as a uterus.

There's a lot biology learning going on out there. They're not comfortable. We were hoping, maybe blindly, that the legislative men who are in their 50s would have daughters in their 20s, and the daughters would step in and say, ‘Hey, wait a minute dad, what's going on?' I think we're beginning to see some of that, but I do think in Florida we're beginning to have more legislators that are heavily funded by religious organizations, and they vote accordingly. We've got a couple Republicans who will take us behind closed doors and say, ‘We really believe in what you guys are doing. I've got daughters. I have a wife who's on me all the time about this. But I cannot go onto the floor and talk about this, because my peers will not let me have a committee chair, they will not let me be on a bill that I believe in.' It is archaic the way the political system is designed. It's all driven by money.

Somebody asked me today, why are you guys always standing up and being so political? Because the other side has driven the debate. If we don't talk about politics and how it's going to impact women and families, who's going to talk about it? NOW doesn't talk about it, NARAL doesn't talk about it. Planned Parenthood, we're the only one in the state that has a lobbyist in Tallahassee. If we don't talk, who will? If abortion is outlawed and birth control is outlawed and somehow you have to have a full body scan before you can have a termination there, if somebody doesn't go, ‘Wait a minute, you guys can't do that?' We're calling people on what they are doing. We're saying, ‘Explain to me why this is the better interest of Florida. Explain it to me.' We talk with women every day and say this is a very difficult choice that you're about to make and it's confidential. And then we can't say, ‘Oh, and by the way, would you stand up and testify?'

Somehow they think if we really clamp down on abortion, that 45 percent of single mothers giving birth [statistic] is going to come down. Fifty-nine percent of pregnancies in Florida are unintended. The national average is 50 percent. It just blows my mind.

On a personal note, how does your husband feel about the past 14 years?

My husband is one of those unique individuals who fell in love with me 31 years ago and he's never been out of love with me. He tells me every day that I'm the defining moment in his life. He's thrilled. I need about three months to decompress and I don't want to be on anybody's list that I have to show up at places where I don't want to be. We bought some land north of Chattanooga, Tenn. It's in the woods. I've never built a modern home, and I'm very handy. I'm a builder. I like to build things. I have very good feelings about leaving. I have very good feelings about what's going to happen next.

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