How Planned Parenthood Works

By: Molly Edmonds

Planned Parenthood Services and Stances

Oral contraceptives, one of Planned Parenthood's offerings.
Oral contraceptives, one of Planned Parenthood's offerings.

While the Planned Parenthood Federation of America has national headquarters in New York City and Washington, D.C., the local health centers are actually governed and operated by regional affiliates. As of January 2009, there are approximately 860 health centers.

The services provided at local Planned Parenthoods may differ slightly. For example, Planned Parenthood of Western Washington's Take Charge program offers residents below the poverty line free annual exams and birth control pills for a year. Planned Parenthood of Delaware offers free wellness coaching that helps clients navigate everything from Medicaid forms to the vitamin aisle. Some Planned Parenthood chapters offer abortion training to medical students who don't learn the procedure in medical school or hospital residencies.


Although different programs are available in different regions, there are, of course, some very common reasons that people go to Planned Parenthood. In 2006, Planned Parenthood's local health centers saw 3.1 million patients. The vast majority of those patients were seeking some form of contraceptive service; contraception makes up 38 percent of Planned Parenthood's services. Planned Parenthood's contraceptive options include reversible contraception, such as condoms or the birth control pill, as well as more permanent options, such as tubal sterilization and vasectomy. Additionally, Planned Parenthood provides emergency contraception, commonly known as the morning-after pill.

Testing and treating sexually transmitted diseases and infections, including HIV, made up 29 percent of Planned Parenthood's services in 2006. Cancer screening and prevention, which consists of Pap tests, breast exams, colposcopies (tests for abnormal growths in the cervix), LEEP procedures and cyrotherapy (those last two treat cancerous cells and growths), made up 19 percent of Planned Parenthood's docket.

Ten percent of Planned Parenthood's services in 2006 were devoted to health services that included pregnancy tests, prenatal care and infertility treatment. Three percent of Planned Parenthood's services include abortion procedures. Though that is a small percentage of Planned Parenthood's work, that 3 percent totaled 289,750 abortions in 2006, making Planned Parenthood the largest provider of abortions in the United States. According to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, Planned Parenthood is responsible for 1 in 5 abortions in this country [source: USCCB]. Referrals to adoption agencies made up less than 1 percent of Planned Parenthood's services.

In addition to seeing patients on-site, Planned Parenthood provides sexual health information online to 1.25 million visitors a month; that number includes visitors to a site geared specifically to teenagers, The Planned Parenthood Federation of America also works with international partners to ensure that women worldwide have the same access to information and health care as women in the United States. In 2006, Planned Parenthood provided $2.6 million in grants to partner organizations, so that women from Nicaragua to Nepal can receive health care.

In addition to patient healthcare here and worldwide, Planned Parenthood acts as an advocate and lobbyist for reproductive health issues on the local, state and national level. Here are a few of Planned Parenthood's stances:

  • Planned Parenthood defends a woman's right to an abortion without unnecessary obstacles, such as a mandatory waiting period or a parental notification requirement.
  • Planned Parenthood opposes pharmacy refusal of contraceptives and maintains that birth control should be priced affordably and covered under all insurance plans and Medicaid.
  • Planned Parenthood supports comprehensive sex education in schools, as opposed to abstinence-only curriculums.
  • All patients have the right to privacy, particularly from the government.

As you might imagine, much of Planned Parenthood's agenda for advocacy depends on the political climate in the country. Of course, that's not anything new -- all of Planned Parenthood's history has been shaped by the politics of the time. Go to the next page for more on Planned Parenthood's history.