Church sounds off with Planned Parenthood executive

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Bethany Presbyterian Church wants to talk about the heated issues impacting Spokane.

That's why members launched Sounding Board last month, a monthly speaker series that creates conversations around contemporary subjects, said the Rev. Paul Rodkey.

On Wednesday the group heard from Karl Eastlund, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, who said people wrongly assume abortions are the organization's main focus.

He said abortions make up 5 percent of the services Planned Parenthood provides, 13 percent is sexually transmitted disease screening and 82 percent of its efforts focus on family planning and annual exams.

“Unfortunately we do have a marketing and an image problem, so we have not been able to sell to the public, to inform them of the services we do as much as we'd like to” Eastlund said, after a church member asked why the organization seems to be so unpopular. Mainly, he added, because the organization would rather spend their money on serving the community than marketing. Planned Parenthood recently made headlines when the Susan G. Komen Foundation announced it would no longer fund grants to the organization.Later, the foundation recanted its announcement. Eastlund said the reversal came because Planned Parenthood supporters spoke up.

“The public was really strong about who they thought was in the right on that issue, and it was Planned Parenthood. And it was Planned Parenthood by a landslide,” Eastlund said.

He said the public's outcry, along with President Barack Obama's health care mandate proves “there is hope,” even though there's still a lot of work to be done.

“For me it's really an equality issue,” Eastlund said. “This past couple of months have been a great opportunity for the supporters of Planned Parenthood to say 'we've had enough' and to stand up and to speak very loudly about the fact that this (birth control) is a social justice issue and it's really a basic equality issue. And until we get past that and win that battle, I think there's still a lot of work that needs to be done in that area.”

He said although abortion and contraception have taken the public's eye, the focus needs to also be on educating teenagers about STDs and safe sex.

Spokane, he said, is ranked 22nd in teen pregnancy and has the fifth highest number of teenagers with Chlamydia. Nationally, he said 41 percent of teenagers know little or nothing about condoms, and 75 percent know little or nothing about contraceptive pills.

“There's a lot of work that still needs to be done in Spokane,” Eastlund said.

He said churches, like Bethany, can help by boldly speaking up for Planned Parenthood and for by working with their youth in creative ways to prevent teenage pregnancies.


Tiffany Nakagawa, who organized the church's Sounding Board, said these forums are designed to help the church step outside of its four walls and pay attention to what's happening in the community and in the world. “Knowledge is important,” she said. “But knowing what to do with that knowledge is more important.” A forum won't be held in April because of Easter, but in May the forum will focus on marriage equality in Washington

About Tracy Simmons

Tracy Simmons is an award winning journalist specializing in religion reporting, digital entrepreneurship and social journalism. In her 15 years on the religion beat, Simmons has tucked a notepad in her pocket and found some of her favorite stories aboard cargo ships in New Jersey, on a police chase in Albuquerque, in dusty Texas church bell towers, on the streets of New York and in tent cities in Haiti.
Simmons has worked as a multimedia journalist for newspapers across New Mexico, Texas and Connecticut. Currently she serves as the executive director of SpokaneFAVS.com, a digital journalism start-up covering religion news and commentary in Spokane, Wash. She is also a Scholarly Assistant Professor at Washington State University.

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  1. Lace Marie Williams-Tinajero, PhD

    Thanks for this informative piece, Tracy. It helps me understand the scope of work that Planned Parenthood does in the community. It would be great if the church, on a broader scale, addressed sensitive issues concerning teenage sexuality.

  2. Thanks Lace!

  3. I agree with Lace. In my work with youth and when conducting premarital counseling, it has been amazing how difficult it has been to bring an honest and comprehensive conversation to the fore. There are some great people doing some wonderful things in this area, but as an entity, the church is either missing from the conversation or has unwittingly reinforced the notion that “sex is bad until marriage.” This message has set many couples up for a long and unnecessarily challenging road. Teens need a forum to discuss their feeling, emotions and influences in this area.

    For the record, I hold that “sex is great within marriage.” That is archaic to some, I know.

  4. Liv Larson Andrews

    Lots of us married folk are grateful for the good work of PP, and grateful for a church like Bethany willing to make space for informative, civil conversation in the midst of lotsa yuck.
    I think I’m developing a pro-sex pro-marriage pro-baby pro-birth pro-living pro-respect pro-health care pro-options pro-church pro-Jesus pro-death-as-a-blessed-part-of-life pro-earth position. I’ll letcha know how it goes.

  5. anna marie martin, mdiv

    Thanks for the article, Tracy – I’m glad this event has had such a positive response. I agree that the churches need to enter the conversation in a positive way. I really enjoyed Karl’s talk, and having a broader sense of the work of Planned Parenthood in our community. The Bethany community will continue to have conversations about important issues and keep reaching out to the people.
    The Ustream link where you can watch the whole event is: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/20954472
    Thanks again, Anna (ministry coordinator at Bethany)

  6. No problem! Looking forward to writing more about your church. Thanks for the link!

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