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Female health is clinics' priority

March 6, 2003

By Beth Bond

Regardless of where they stand on the issue of abortion, people who work in sexual health in Waco agree that some of their most pressing problems stem from misinformation.

Planned Parenthood of Central Texas director Pam Smallwood devotes a good amount of her time at work to explaining to people exactly what it is she does.

'I would dearly love for people to understand that Planned Parenthood is a health care provider,' she said. The Planned Parenthood clinic on Ross Avenue closely resembles a typical gynecologist's office, with a waiting room in front, nurses flipping through color-coded patient files behind a desk and examination rooms toward the back of the clinic. Patients can come for routine reproductive health exams like STD tests, Pap smears and breast exams.

Another Planned Parenthood clinic, on Columbus Avenue, differs from a gynecologist's office because it is the only place in Waco that performs abortions, which are done Wednesday mornings. Offering standard sexual health services like prescription birth control always has been the clinic's primary purpose, said Pat Stone, Planned Parenthood's educational director. She said she is frustrated by those who want to limit [the program's] services because it performs abortions.

'Women don't deserve to be reduced to the issue of one procedure,' Stone said.

Local anti-abortion programs Care Net Pregnancy Center of Central Texas and McLennan County Collaborative Abstinence Project (McCAP), as well as Planned Parenthood, fight what they see as sexual myths by holding informational sessions in schools. They give students facts and statistics on contraceptive methods and risks like sexually transmitted diseases. They also provide other services.

'We serve about 300 women each month,' Cathy Sones, executive director of Care Net, said. 'We deal with obstacles in the way because a girl has gotten pregnant, like finding a place to live, helping them tell parents and boyfriends and offering parenting classes.'

Another primary difference between a private doctor's office and a Planned Parenthood clinic is that most patients are uninsured. In 2001, 97.5 percent of Planned Parenthood patients were at or below the Federal Poverty Income Guidelines.

A common mistake is to link that economic level with minorities, even though most women who have abortions are college-age, white women, said Loeen Irons, who teaches a human sexuality course at Baylor.

'We are hiding our head in the sand if we think only women of color have abortions,' said Irons, a full-time lecturer of health, human performance and recreation. A 2001 Texas Department of Health study reports that of the 77,537 abortions performed that year, 25,808 were for women ages 20 to 24.

'A lot of people have the misconception that things like premarital sex and abortion don't hit close to home at Baylor,' Sones said. 'It's just not something spoken of in Christian settings.'

McCAP and Care Net put emphasis on abstinence before marriage.

'People say we want to deny people, but it's not about that,' said Becky Mosby, a registered nurse and Education Director for McCAP. 'It's about putting [sex] where it needs to be and learning to love well.'