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Planned personhood

The pro-life movement’s newest attack on reproductive rights raises its profile in Florida

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The personhood issue doesn’t appear to have made many inroads into the muted progressive side of the Florida Legislature, at least not yet. State Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando, has only recently picked up on the amendment initiative via Planned Parenthood; he thinks, at best, it’s unnecessary, especially when there’s a conservative majority that could carry that kind of language into law without the grassroots blisters.

“If I were in an organization, and I had a far-right legislature, why would I go out and find a million signatures?” he says. “It only takes 72 votes in the House, 24 votes in the Senate. They’ve easily got it.”

That doesn’t mean that progressives shouldn’t be alarmed, though. Unlike citizen-led initiatives that need to have their signatures approved by January 2012, the legislature could pick up on personhood anytime over the next two legislative sessions.

“It’s something you have to keep an eye out for,” Randolph says.

Some within the pro-choice movement, including Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando president and chief executive officer Sue Idtensohn, are a little more concerned. Nationally, Planned Parenthood is struggling to put out the fires via lawsuits and campaigns in several states – Mississippi, Nevada, Colorado, among others – and in the process, it’s hemorrhaging millions of dollars.

“We know the personhood thing is real,” she says. “And Florida is next.”

The problem is creating something of an identity crisis for Planned Parenthood. Last year, PPGO received a $478,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for its proactive work on teen pregnancy prevention. Yet the organization’s name has become synonymous almost exclusively with abortion.

“I think what we’ve really failed to do is really hammer on the fact that Planned Parenthood is really what its name says,” Idtensohn says. “You’re really planning a family or planning on whether you want to have a family, and prior to that, you’re preventing an unintended pregnancy.”

In other words, the key is disseminating birth control. But that’s not enough for the occasionally rowdy protesters holding vigil outside the Tampa Avenue clinic. (“We’ve had suitcases with pipes and wires,” Idtensohn says.) According to Orlando police records, the violence is increasing. There were 10 calls for service (vandalism, threats or assaults, trespassing) in 2009, and 19 in 2010.

Orlando’s Planned Parenthood office performs approximately 2,000 abortions per year, some surgical, some via medications like RU-486 (available for up to the first seven weeks). The cost is about $500 per procedure. Though 97 percent of the services offered by the agency are not related to abortion, the revenue stream supporting Planned Parenthood of Greater Orlando increasingly is. According to 2009 tax documents, PPGO took in $952,733 for surgical services, a large portion of its $2.5 million in program service revenue. As a result, Idtensohn says there’s been a necessary sea change in the way that Planned Parenthood presents itself. After years of trying to distance the organization from the “A” word (the Orlando office only started offering abortion procedures four years ago), it’s now an 
imperative that the group owns it.

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