HR: Could you just tell me a little bit about yourself and tell me what you do?
MG: My name is Meghan Groen and I am the Director of Government of Relations at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan. So primarily what I do is meet with legislatures and educate them on the services of Planned Parenthood are, how different pieces of legislations they choose to enact or not enact effect Planned Parenthood patients as well as women and women on a broader scale.. One thing that we see is that people don’t really understand many of these issues. The don’t realize that regulating one certain aspect of abortion care can really impact our ability to provide birth control and cancer screenings. So one of the things we do is really make sure that people are educated on how these decisions really affect their constituents. So what we do at the beginning of each season is meet with all the new legislators, pro-choice or anti- choice and make sure they know who in their district uses PP services. Quite frankly, many of them are shocked to realize how in need those services are. In MI, we have 23 out 83 counties that do not have an OB/GYN, and that has nothing to do with abortion services, just to get your normal annual check up. That’s something that a lot of people are shocked to find out, how doctors are directly influenced by this kind of legislation and how it really drives people out of the state in the sense of practicing medicine..
HR: What made you personally want to get involved with Planned Parenthood?
MG: I have always been a huge PP advocated because in going back to our youth, sex education, I was very lucky to have that offered for at my school, but I knew that many other folks weren’t as fortunate. It was something that wasn’t talked about and that it was something people needed to know in order to understand their sexuality. If they don’t they end up with many negative outcomes: STIs and unintended pregnancy and so on. So it was the youth aspect that initially attracted me to PP. Once I got here, I realized that our resources are not just used by youth, they are accessed over many communities. There is an access issue that spans across communities. You could have many negative outcomes, and people are just not educated in how to protect themselves, such as becoming infertility. I of course, believe in everyone’s ability and right to chose whatever reproductive option that they want. For me, I always wanted to be a mother, and I can’t image that the decisions that I made in my youth could effect me so badly when I was ready to have children with my husband.
HR: Do you think that when you meet with politicians, you realize that they may think of only the “abortion aspect” before they think of all the other services that Planned Parenthood offers?
MG: Absolutely, I will tell you that we have 25 health centers in the state of Michigan, and 4 of them perform abortion services. That’s something that when I meet with legislators, many of them are shocked to find out. 98% of our services in Michigan are preventative care based; with focuses on birth control, and cancer screenings. But this is often something that people have stigmas about. When those who opposed try to target a Planned Parenthood center, they don’t often realize that they are targeting more than just abortion, and quite frankly, Planned Parenthood probably does more to avoid unintended pregnancies and abortions than any other organization in the world. If people don’t get these services, we know what is going to end up happening. For a majority of women, they have at some point in their lives have gone off birth control or used it inconsistently and most of the time that results in an unintended pregnancy. We believe that women should have the ability to plan for when they want to, if, and how far apart they want to have their children. This scenario is one of the most common that we see.
With your work with legislators, what are some of the initiatives that you are working on right now?
MG: Well, right now we are working on a few different initiatives, one of them is talking about keeping politics out of the exam room .Right now in Michigan there are several areas in statues where we actually tell a doctor that they have to say something that the general practice of medicine says is inaccurate. We don’t think that politicians should tell doctors how to best practice medicine. We want to allow doctors the freedom to offer the best medically accurate information they can give. We have one doctor in the legislature out of 148 members, so I don’t really think that they are the best folk to be telling doctors how to give information to their patients. Another initiative is making it so an employer cannot discriminate against you based on your reproductive choices. So that would be if a pregnancy was covered, an employer can’t discriminate against you for that. There’s nothing protecting you from reproductive health decisions, such as in vitro fertilizations, birth control choices. And just like we think that politicians aren’t the best people to be making these decisions, we don’t think that employers are, regardless of where you work either. Another one we are working on is introducing a reppeal on the ban on insurance coverage for abortion.
HR: How does the Abortion Opt Out Act affect the work of Planned Parenthood?
MG: Insurance covers a whole wide range of services, so that’s how it’s designed. in terms of why most insurance policies do cover right now and won’t be able to in the future unless they offer a separate policy. Which then if people may or may not be able to purchase in individuals market. So if your employer purchased some huge package, some companies will be able to purchase a rider. If you yourself said that I’m insured and I want to purchase this additional coverage, no one would be able to provide this to you right now, and you won’t be able to purchase it. No one on the individual market would be able to purchase it for at least next year.
Who it’s going to really impact is folks, very rarely, that are using that option and find that there is something terribly wrong with their fetus and something that is terribly wrong with their health. And that is when you are looking at an abortion in a hospital that could cost tens of thousands of dollars. We do have situations in the state where you do have a woman who finds out that the fetus won’t be viable and she would then be forced to pay out of pocket for the care that her doctor recommended that she choose for her family in additional to the burden of losing a wanted pregnancy, or having to carry a fetus to term that inevitably would not be viable. So you’re looking at the amount of people that is going to impact is going to be small, but if that were to happen to my family, I can’t imagine. Decide to deplete my two children’s college funds to pay for a procedure or continue carry a pregnancy that isn’t viable, and that’s something that no family should have to endure. And [situations like] that is why we have insurance coverage. You also have situations with miscarriages where the way that technical language is right now versus legal and medical language. You could know of a situation where the pregnancy is not viable, but you have to wait until there is no heartbeat and that could put the life of the woman at risk because she could be at a point where her health has gotten so severe before she could do the procedure. Doctors shouldn’t be forced into that position, they should be able to perform the care that someone needs, unless that’s not the care that they want which is entirely up to them. but this puts people in a very difficult position. These are situations where abortion care is going to be very very expensive.
HR: What are some legislative initiatives that you have pushed and completed?
MG: Recently, about 4 or 5 years ago we had comprehensive sex ed moved through the House. We had an initiative to require hospitals to offer emergency contraception, this can be an issue because the later it is issued, the less effective it is. It wouldn’t be to force people to have it, it would just be there as an offer. We also had legislation that talked about medically accurate information being given to patients. At Planned Parenthood we explain all of your options to you. A lot of times at crisis pregnancy centers, it’s a faith based initiative, so you don’t get all your options explained to you. Education and knowledge is the best way to let women know that we care about them, and we believe they can make the best decision for them at that time.
HR:What are some strategies that Planned Parenthood uses?
MG: We meet with politicians individually, we use patient stories to really put a face to real people making these decision. There seems to be be a lot of people in this country who think that women can’t make their own decisions, and putting a face to that and realizing that these are smart women they are representing is very helpful. It’s really impactful. We make sure that people are hearing from their actual constituents. Dropping off a stack of cards and saying “this is who stands with Planned Parenthood” isn’t as effective.
HR: Would you say it is difficult to push initiatives with such a conservative presence in the house?
MG: Absolutely, because of the stigma of crazy feminists. They see us as the minority with the crazy signs, but in actuality we aren’t the minority, during the last session we had the Vagina Monologues at that capitol, and we 10,000 people there and it was a really big thing that helped show that people are here because they care. People wanted to be there and they wanted to show their support. It was the most diverse choice event I had ever been to in my life.
Depending on a woman's situation, there are somethings that are very difficult to legislate in and unless you know your individual circumstance, it’s not something that other people can make that for you.
HR: With the possibility of Mark Schauer being elected to office, do you think that would change things for Planned Parenthood’s initiatives?
MG: Absolutely, his voting record on reproductive issues is strong. We were successful with legislation with Governor Snyder, laws were not as restrictive when they were passed as to when they were introduced. With that being said, having someone in office who is in the Governor’s offices who honestly doesn’t want to talk about the issue in a confined way would be helpful. Also his running mate is Lisa Brown who is most famous right now for being the person who was silenced on the House floor for saying “vagina”, so in terms of someone who is strong in reproductive issues, I couldn’t imagine him picking a better advocate for his running mate. Taking some of these issues off the agenda so that we could really focus on preventative care would really reduce the number of unintended pregnancies in the state would and the number abortions. This would be hugely impactful for the women of Michigan.