After months of heated debate, the board members of Reading School District struck down the proposed “Health Resource Center” last night in a close 5-4 vote.
In theory, supporting a Health Resource Center sounds like a worthy cause, especially in a low-income area like inner-city Reading. Unfortunately, the organization recommended to facilitate the program would be none other than Planned Parenthood. This center was proposed by AccessMatters in May 2017, and it would have been facilitated by Planned Parenthood’s regional office, Planned Parenthood Keystone. A Planned Parenthood counselor would have been able operate from within the school, giving Planned Parenthood direct access to their target clientele (i.e. young, vulnerable students). While parents could have been given the option to “opt out” of the controversial program (which included condom distribution), thousands of Reading students would be exposed to Planned Parenthood’s agenda.
THOSE IN FAVOR?
Board member Robin Costenbader-Jacobson shared that she was in favor of the center because of what she saw as benefits for the students, “What about the students — the human beings, the individuals that would gain knowledge?”
Yes! We care about our young people! Yes! Our students deserve access to healthy and safe education about their bodies- which is why we would never want to refer students to unsanitary, untrustworthy centers.
Planned Parenthoods across the country have failed inspections, failed to report criminal activity (e.g. statutory rape), and failed our communities. The Allentown Medical Center (a center within the Planned Parenthood Keystone network) is a prime example. This center failed inspections 3 years in a row due to use of dirty medical instruments, improper disposal of aborted baby body parts, and failure to evaluate patients prior to administering anesthesia.
Manuel Gauzman, a school board member in favor of the center, explained, “I believe it is our moral responsibility as a school board to give access to this information. Put the politics aside. … This is about providing pathways out of poverty.”
We agree – politics should be set aside. Planned Parenthood, however, is our nation’s leader in abortion politics, spending millions on elections (e.g. $30+ million in 2016 elections, including $1.3 million in PA in ads against Pat Toomey) and lobbying efforts for extreme abortion policies. Planned Parenthood also has a long track record of aggressively fighting against legislation that protects parent involvement in their children’s health decisions (e.g. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky federal lawsuit in 2017).
Keyara Hunt, Berks Teens Matter Ambassador, spoke during the public comments and spent several minutes talking with us outside after the vote. She attends the I-LEAD Charter school that already has this program. “I know that Berks county has three times the national rate in teen pregnancies. A Health Resource Center could provide better education and information on how to be abstinent, use birth control methods, and how to communicate with a trusted adult on their health.”
We are so thankful that Keyara is aware of the issues that affect her generation. Sadly, Planned Parenthood is not helping in this area. Planned Parenthood perpetuates the myth that passing out condoms and birth control will lower teen pregnancy and STDs, when in fact abortion and pregnancy rates decrease among teenagers when communities reduce spending on and expansion of contraception, condom distribution, and sex-ed programs:
Let’s also remember, Planned Parenthood has already been operating in Reading PA for decades. In fact, Planned Parenthood has been offering birth control services in Reading since 1927 (through Reading’s Community General Hospital), and they have been offering first trimester abortions at the Reading Medical Center since 1998. Which makes us wonder, If Planned Parenthood’s services are so critical to reducing poverty and decreasing teen pregnancy, then why does Berks County continue on this path? The answer is certainly not more of the same.
Community members lined the streets for hours waving to cars and holding signs saying Vote NO to Planned Parenthood in RSD.
America Franco, a concerned parent, said, “I am not supportive of Planned Parenthood in our school!”
Inside the meeting, more concerned parents and students gave their testimony. Nilda Nieves pleaded with the board to “raise the standard and believe in our youth.”
Stephanie Sanchez is a senior this year at Reading, and she explained, “My peers at RHS are worth more than just giving up and providing them all with condoms hoping it’ll make things better. They are worth fighting for and that’s what I’m trying to do. I as a student, a resident, and a friend to many at RHS, beg you not to allow planned parenthood into my school. That is not the legacy I want to leave.”
Hours before the meeting, members from both sides crowded together to stake their spots. Among the confusion, sign-holding, spot-saving, chanting, and rallying, people on both sides started some interesting conversations. It was no shock to our team that those supporting Planned Parenthood were terribly misinformed.
A woman holding an AccessMatters Sign commented to me, “This is not about abortion. It’s about our kids having access to good health education.”
I assured her that I too want “good” health education, but “Planned Parenthood is the last place to find it. Plus, the Keystone Center who is sending their counselor is dangerous for our kids. They have continually failed their health inspections.”
She bluntly said, “Oh, there’s no way. I don’t believe that at all.”
Having read the report myself a few times, I asked, “Since we’re both standing here anyway, would you mind if I showed you the report?” to which she replied, “Sure, go for it.”
When I pulled up the report from the Pennsylvania Department of Health listing several years of failed inspections, with the most recent being April 2017, she was shocked. She admitted that she had no idea Planned Parenthood was guilty of repeat health code violations.
Shortly thereafter, another woman from their side realized that she had been misinformed as well. Elda, who only spoke Spanish, explained that she was approached at a Spanish Counsel in the city where it was explained to her that the group she would be supporting was not supportive of abortion. Thankfully, Elda was able to communicate with an interpreter on our side, Maggie Sweet from Silent No More, who explained what AccessMatters and Planned Parenthood truly represented. Elda was so upset, she returned her protest materials right back to the box and joined our side!
- Please consider sending a sincere THANK YOU card or email to the following Board Members who bravely voted no: Brian Buerke, Bernardo Carbajal, Jean Kelleher, Julio Martinez, and Eddie Moran.
- Send a heartfelt and respectful note of disappointment and correction to these board members who voted yes: Abraham Cepeda, Robin Costenbader-Jacobson, Manny Guzman, and David McCoy.
- Continue to show your support on this issue! Audrey Ross, spokeswoman for AccessMatters, claimed that their proposal could reappear on the board’s agenda later for another vote. Sign and share the petition HERE: http://prolifeamerica.org/readingschools2017/. We will continue to send in your comments and concerns to board members since we know Planned Parenthood will not give up this easily.
Access to affordable, safe healthcare and family support services is important for every community. We encourage Reading families to explore unbiased, comprehensive healthcare alternatives to Planned Parenthood, like your local federally qualified health center (Berks Community Health Center). For life-affirming, free pregnancy and parenting support, check out your local pregnancy support organizations (LifeLine of Berks County and Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center).
Berks Community Health Center
838 Penn Street, Reading, PA 19602
Phone: (610) 988-4838
Sliding Fee Program: http://www.berkschc.net/images/Media/Sliding_Fee_Discount_Program_Application_COMPLETE_March_2015.pdf
Women’s Health Services: http://berkschc.net/index.php/services/women-s-health
Prenatal Care: http://berkschc.net/index.php/services/prenatal-care
Free pregnancy testing is available at all of our health center locations.
“There is no need to make an appointment, and you don’t have to be a BCHC patient. You may simply walk in and request a free pregnancy test at the front desk and our staff will take care of you.”
Lifeline of Berks County
Phone: (610) 374-8545
612 Reading Avenue, West Reading, PA 19611
Free Services: Pregnancy Tests, Options Support, Emergency Material Aid, Maternity Clothes, Parenting Support and Preparation, Referrals (community, medical, housing, drug and alcohol counseling, etc), Breastfeeding Support, Insurance Information
Mercy Community Crisis Pregnancy Center
105 S. 5th Street, Reading PA 19602
Free Services: Pregnancy Tests, Options Support, Material Aid, Peer Counseling, Referrals for Social Services, STI Information, Emergency Material Support, Parenting Education