08/26/2015 09:21 EDT | Updated 08/26/2016 05:59 EDT

Planned Parenthood in Canada Is Under Attack Too

Adam Petto

You've heard of the recent attacks on women's healthcare in the States, but in Canada, we're feeling the impact too. For 50 years, Planned Parenthood Ottawa has been there for our community, providing unbiased counselling, education, advice and support. But it's become increasingly hard to do our work. Planned Parenthood is under attack, by people who oppose healthcare for women and the trans community, who don't want youth to get the education they need, and who dedicate themselves to cutting our funding every way they can.

Recently, they've targeted our funders, pressuring them to drop commitments to sex education, contraception advice and options counselling. This is unacceptable. In the last two years, funding for our services has been slashed. Some cuts have been large, with major funders suddenly backing away. Others have been smaller, but they have made it harder to do our work.

Due to funding cuts, this week, we had to turn away a woman whose abusive partner was trying to force her to end her pregnancy. I never want to have to do that again.

Summer was 17, and heavily pregnant when she saw Planned Parenthood's counsellor. Summer hadn't wanted to be pregnant, but growing up in the rural North, she didn't have the access to contraception she needed. Summer had been to another organisation earlier in her pregnancy, but they told her abortion wasn't allowed. She had received no pre-natal care, had not seen a doctor through her entire pregnancy, and had no financial support. Planned Parenthood's counsellors worked with Summer for a week. We ensured Summer got a midwife, we helped her access support for housing, and we connected her with cultural support from her community.

Amanda, in her mid-twenties, came to see our counsellor very upset. At the start of the session, she disclosed that her boyfriend, who was in the waiting room outside, was pressuring her to have an abortion. She needed our help to make her own choice. With Amanda, we provided a safe, non-judgmental space to explore all her options. We gave her the tools and support to feel comfortable with her own choice. And we gave her the words to safely voice her own decision.

Mary is 39. She has five, wonderful children. But she's pregnant again and isn't sure she can cope with a sixth child. She comes to Planned Parenthood for unbiased, confidential counselling, to talk about all her options. She arrives in tears, lost and lonely. She leaves knowing it's her choice, and she can make the best decision for herself.

I could go on with examples. Over our 50 years, we have counselled tens of thousands of people. And it's not only pregnancy counselling. We provide contraception counselling, to help people choose the right method for them. We're also one of the few providers of free, unbiased post-abortion and miscarriage counselling.

And we teach evidence-based, age-appropriate sex and relationship education to thousands of youth every year. Through our classroom sessions or our Insight Theatre program, PPO's sex ed is innovative, interactive and engaging. It's how youth learn. We not only teach the facts, we teach them in a way that's meaningful.

We're proud supporters of the new Ontario curriculum, and it matches what we've been teaching for some time. It's critical children know the names of their body parts, And it's vital that teens understand not just the legal definition of consent, but how applies to their lives.

Our Insight Theatre program is by youth, for youth. It's funky, peer-to-peer education aimed at teens. It covers everything from GLBT issues to STIs, consent to sexting, and puberty to healthy relationships. You can catch a sneak peek here.

At the end of every sex ed session, there's a question box. This is where youth submit their questions anonymously, to be answered in front of the class. And when youth feel safe, they ask questions like this. These are all real questions from grade six and seven youth.

"What's a polite way to say no"

Every time you lobby to cut our funding, a question like this goes unanswered.

"Is it OK to be gay?"

Every time you oppose our work, there's a youth left worrying about something like this.

"What's an appropriate age to have sex?"

That's not acceptable.

I'm so proud of the work we do, which reaches tens of thousands of people every year. We teach great sex ed to thousands of youth in Ottawa schools, we provide confidential, unbiased counselling to people facing an unplanned pregnancy, we provide contraception advice, and 72,000 free condoms last year alone, and we're a resource for everything reproductive and sexual health.

We cannot allow a small group of people, with loud voices, to dictate the type of healthcare and education we fund.

Please join us in solidarity, and support Planned Parenthood Ottawa.

Lauren Dobson-Hughes is President of the Board at Planned Parenthood Ottawa. You can donate here


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