Students gathered at the Yale School of Public Health on Monday to learn about what the Trump administration means for the future of Planned Parenthood.
Susan Yolen, the vice president of public policy and advocacy for Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, spoke with students about imminent challenges to both reproductive rights and the nonprofit. With nearly 650 health centers throughout the United States, Planned Parenthood serves as the nation’s largest provider of reproductive health services and education. However, with Donald Trump as president and a Republican majority in both houses of Congress, the nonprofit organization is now at risk of losing its federal funding.
Yolen opened her presentation by giving the audience an overview of Planned Parenthood’s current situation, covering the scope and composition of the organization in Connecticut and nationwide.
“Planned Parenthood has been a red flag for our opponents for years and years,” Yolen said. “There’s nothing new about that, but the current environment we’re in is new.”
During the talk, Yolen presented a timeline of the defunding threat, as well as other anticipated attacks on reproductive rights from conservative lawmakers. In addition, she drew attention to Connecticut’s shifting political landscape, noting that of the state’s 169 towns, 43 towns that voted for Barack Obama in 2012 voted for Trump in 2016.
However, Yolen expressed optimism about the state’s ability to “successfully defend our positive reproductive health policy,” adding that the key to tackling the upcoming challenges is balancing preparedness with hopefulness. She praised Connecticut politicians such as Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-New Haven, Sen. Richard Blumenthal LAW ’73, D-Conn., and Sen. Chris Murphy, D–Conn., for their support of Planned Parenthood’s efforts, and highlighted the outpouring of support the organization has received from the general public since the November election.
According to public health professor Shelley Geballe LAW ’75 MED ’95, who facilitated the talk, Yolen was the fourth guest in a speaker series intended to expose first-year health policy students to leaders in the field. Geballe described Yolen as one of the “most brilliant strategists” she has ever seen on the topic of reproductive rights.
Given the recent election, this semester’s speakers have largely focused their presentations on the impacts of proposed changes in Washington, D.C., Geballe added. Previous guests include Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services Executive Director Chris George, who led a discussion on immigration policies, and Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut President Frances Padilla, who presented on the impact of policies aimed at repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act.
During the talk, audience members expressed their interest in learning how Planned Parenthood has strategized to prepare for various political situations.
“I think as a [medical] student, it’s important to be aware of the current climate and how things that are happening now are going to be affecting our patients in the future,” Nic Muñoz MED ’20 told the News. “It’s very important to be aware of the politics that go on behind a lot of these health-oriented groups, especially something as big as Planned Parenthood, which is hugely important in terms of mitigating health disparities.”
After 45 minutes, Yolen opened the floor to questions from the audience, which was composed of approximately 40 graduate students in the schools of Public Health and Medicine. Attendees asked questions on topics ranging from the sharing of strategies between Planned Parenthood branches in different states to how ACA repeal will affect the patients whose Planned Parenthood services are covered by the law.
Health policy student Arsema Thomas SPH ’18 said it was encouraging to see how much support Planned Parenthood has received since the election. She added that the talk helped her gain a different perspective on issues that are already topics of everyday conversation.
“As women in the health field and women in the U.S., this is something that will affect not only us but our friends, our mothers and our future daughters,” Aminata Seydi SPH ’18 said. “It’s good to stay informed, especially from a different viewpoint on the issue. We look at this as scientists and epidemiologists and policy analysts, but not from a human standpoint of people working on the ground.”
Planned Parenthood’s roots date back to 1916, when female activists opened the nation’s first birth control clinic in Brooklyn, New York.