As Planned Parenthood prepares to open as many as 50 centers in Los Angeles public high schools, critics are warning that the organization will not help teens receive the formation they need for practicing virtue and building successful relationships.
Kathleen Domingo, senior director at the Archdiocese of Los Angeles’ Office of Life, Justice and Peace, is not confident the health centers will encourage students who are seeking alternatives to sexual activity, contraception, and abortion.
If young women say they are not prepared for current dating and hookup culture and want to step back, Domingo told CNA Dec. 12, “those choices are not generally supported by Planned Parenthood in their materials and resources.”
She had her own advice for high school students: “Seek out those people in your life who are living out the kind of life you want to live, and find out how they are living a life of virtue.”
If a student feels that the school environment is pushing them in a particular direction, he or she should “follow your conscience, and follow what you know God is asking you to do.”
“We will be there to provide you support for those good choices,” Domingo said, encouraging youth to seek out positive resources in the parish, youth ministry, and archdiocese.
The new LA plan provides for “wellbeing centers” in local public high schools. The centers will each be run by two public health officials trained by Planned Parenthood and will offer education and counseling five days a week. Their work will include in-classroom activities.
One day a week, Planned Parenthood clinicians will provide services including birth control, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, and pregnancy testing. The clinics will not offer abortions, but will have “pregnancy options counseling.” Students may make appointments at the in-school centers and may leave class for them. They may also walk-in for services.
The three-year funding plan for the project includes $10 million from Los Angeles county and $6 million from Planned Parenthood to cover 75,000 students at 50 schools, the Washington Post reports. Los Angeles’ regular Planned Parenthood clinics had more than 250,000 patient visits in 2018.
The schools are selected because they are low-income and lack similar centers nearby. Five wellbeing centers have already opened in the district high schools.
Planned Parenthood also intends to train hundreds of teen “peer advocates” to provide information about safe sex and relationships to high school students.
Backers of the project say it is necessary to address an alarming rise in sexually transmitted diseases among young people aged 15 to 24.
Alexis McGill Johnson, interim president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said young people deserve to have “the education, resources, and skills they need to make informed decisions about their health, their relationships, and their futures.”
Sue Dunlap, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Los Angeles, said the program will help address mental and behavioral health issues, substance use, and “lack of knowledge around sexual health” that can “create barriers to academic success.”
However, Sister Paula Vandegaer, S.S.S., a licensed clinical social worker who has counseled women for about 40 years, disagreed that the sex education offered by Planned Parenthood is forming teens for success.
Vandegaer is the founder of Volunteers for Life, a Los Angeles-based organization that describes itself as a “pro-life volunteer corps.” Its work includes counseling and support for women in crisis pregnancies and work with unwed mothers.
She suggested that teens need help to pursue important questions about their lives. Education must be about more than “do what you want” or “follow your feelings,” she said.
“What are my ideals? Who do I want to be? Who do I want to be like? What are my values? What do I stand for? These are the questions that young people should be able to shape and form,” she told CNA. “This is what I don’t think Planned Parenthood forms.”
Citing her experience in marital counseling, Vandegaer warned that helping teens learn self-discipline in sexual matters and relationships is vital for future relationships and marriage.
Vandegaer is not confident the Planned Parenthood centers will support pregnant teens. Planned Parenthood is the largest performers of abortions in the United States. In 2016, the organization performed about one out of every three abortions.
“They will be offered abortions,” she said. “I don’t think they will receive adequate pregnancy counseling like we do in the pro-life pregnancy centers.”
“Pregnancy centers have time to talk with the girls through alternatives, help her to calm her fears, help her to know what her own values are, help her to promote good values, confidence in herself as a mother, help her to be a good mother,” she continued. “There’s ongoing counseling and ongoing help for the girl: financial and educational and emotional and physical.”
Such support is not going to happen in the school-based Planned Parenthood health centers, she suggested. There, a pregnant teen “won’t have adequate knowledge of what she can do if she has her baby and the help that’s available to her.”
Vandegaer told CNA that the California ban on “abstinence-only” education ends up promoting “abortion and contraceptives as the answer to teenage pregnancy.”
Los Angeles public schools are already offering abortion referrals. Domingo noted that while Planned Parenthood says its school centers won’t offer abortions, this likely does not acknowledge the properties of some drugs like Plan B that can cause abortions.
She also questioned whether separating students’ health and sexual education from the context of their families is in their best interests.
“We have traditionally felt that parents know their children best and advocate for their child’s health and safety,” she said.
California law allows minors to consent to receiving birth control or mental health counseling. Health care providers are not allowed to inform parents without the minors’ permission.
Domingo pointed to alternatives like the Culture Project, which has worked in the Los Angeles archdiocese for the last five years to send young adult missionaries to Catholic schools and parishes to work with students in religious education.
“It’s really a very different message,” Domingo said. “It’s the message of human dignity, understanding yourself, understanding the gift that you are, understanding the gift of your life and the gift of body, and understanding the integrity of that: what it all means, what it’s all for, and how to respect that in context.”
“That’s a much better message than one that parcels out a piece of you and says ‘we can fix this for you, we can solve this’ but doesn’t address the larger issue.”
Domingo believes the program is part of Planned Parenthood’s strategy to reach younger and younger populations.
“There’s a real sense within the organization that the support the organization used to have from teens and young adults is just not there anymore,” she said. “They’re being very aggressive in going after supporters.”
“Are they looking to provide services? Sure. But I think they’re also doing more than that. I think it’s a marketing strategy to look for lifetime support from a new generation of young people,” said Domingo.
In the past decade, Planned Parenthood has seen its number of patients decline. The number of cancer screenings, contraceptives distributed, and prenatal services provided by the organization decreased as well.
Its number of abortions, however, have increased by about 10% since 2006, despite seeing fewer patients.
Cuts in taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood and abortion restrictions in dozens of states across the country have put the organization on the defensive. The Trump administration has also instituted rules that meant the organization lost about $60 million in federal funds.
Planned Parenthood has also faced increased scrutiny following the release of a series of undercover videos in 2015 in which executives at the organization appear to be discussing the transfer of body parts from aborted babies for money, a practice that would violate federal law.
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s most recent president, Dr. Leanna Wen, M.D., resigned in July. She said she was forced out after only eight months in her role because she had wanted the organization to focus on health care, while others in leadership positions insisted that abortion advocacy in the political sphere was central to the organization’s purpose.