Planned Parenthood Organizer Speaks at Chellis House


A small group of students met in Chellis House for a information session on Planned Parenthood on Oct. 19. Paige Feeser, the Vermont Public Affairs Organizer for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England, led the session. Feminist Action at Middlebury (FAM) hosted the event, reestablishing the Generation Action initiative, the collegiate activist branch of Planned Parenthood.

Feeser welcomed the group and, arranging the seats in a circle, shared her own experience working with Planned Parenthood. She admitted that she did not initially feel the same passion for the organization as her colleagues until the Supreme Court struck down the Massachusetts “buffer zone” law in June 2014, siding with abortion opponents.

“I really for the first time saw this systemic oppression that is happening in that our country does not fully support women and the choices that they make about their own bodies,” Feeser said. “It was from there that I said I can’t stand idle.“

Feeser then launched into discussion, stating that she wanted to give the group a basic understanding of Planned Parenthood so that they could understand the organization on both a national and local level when talking to other people on campus. She explained that there are three important elements to the organization, the first being healthcare.

“We are a trusted healthcare provider, and in fact we’ve been providing healthcare for over a hundred years,” Feeser said. “We provide a wealth of different services, including abortion, but really our focus is both reproductive and sexual health.”

The second element is education.

“We truly believe that all people should be able to make voluntary choices about their health,” she said. “So we’re providing education during people’s appointments, during counseling sessions, we are providing 24/7 up-to-date information on our website.” Feeser also discussed Planned Parenthood’s peer educator program, which offers high school students sexual education training that they can then use to teach their fellow students.

The third element is advocacy, which is a critical piece in ensuring that people have access to healthcare and education services.

“Our mission statement is to provide, promote, and protect access to reproductive healthcare and sexuality education so that all people can make voluntary choices about their healthcare,” Feeser said.

Feeser also gave a few of Planned Parenthood’s northern New England statistics.

“We have 21 health centers across Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. Last year we served 41,956 patients,” she said. “The majority of our patients are in their 20s, and that is interesting because it challenges what most people think, that people who use our services the most are in their teens.”

There are many other misconceptions about the organization. For example many people assume that patients only go to Planned Parenthood in times of crisis, such as an unplanned pregnancy or STI. But Feeser repeated that the organization offers many different services.

“[In the Northern New England branch], abortion care is at six percent, five percent pregnancy testing and five percent other counseling,” she said. “[Health care for transgender individuals] is a service that is up and coming in our health centers, as well as lab-testing.” She also mentioned other services, such as birth control, cancer screenings for both males and females, preconception education, STD preventatives and men’s health care, including erectile dysfunction treatment.

Feeser mentioned another myth about who uses services at Planned Parenthood. 87 percent of patients in Northern New England are women and 13 percent are men.

“Even amongst our supporters I hear all the time, ‘Planned Parenthood is a women’s organization.’ We’re trying to break that and certainly we are really working to bring more males into our health center, and really putting a focus on LGBT care as well,” Feeser said.

Feeser then turned the discussion back to the students and discussed sexual education and awareness in a school environment, a topic that the student organizations have been taking on recently. Natalie Cheung ’18, who attended the session, is working with other students to start a sexual education initiative on campus, but the students who attended Feeser’s talk felt that people should receive sex education before college.

FAM president Cara Eisenstein ’18 acknowledged that there are already sex-positive education organizations on campus, but she thinks that increasing this number is important.

“I think it’s great that there are a couple of different organizations doing similar and somewhat overlapping things, but with a different main focus, because that way the labor can be divided,” she said.  She also mentioned that FAM and a few other organizations and individuals are working to bring a sex educator from O.School, an online sexual education platform,  to campus in early December.

Eisenstein has also been working with Feeser on Planned Parenthood advocacy for the past few months.

“I think that as someone from Vermont who is relatively young, Paige is a great window into Planned Parenthood for students at Middlebury [who are interested in being] part of Generation Action,” she said. “I’m really glad we were able to reinstitute Generation Action on campus because it is an important organization for helping young people get involved in the fight for reproductive justice and focusing on advancing the goals of feminism through an intersectional lens.”

FAM is incorporating Generation Action into its meetings every Wednesday from 9-10 p.m. in the Chellis House. The club plans to have a tabling event in Proctor within the next few weeks in order to draw attention to current events surrounding reproductive justice.

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