Christine Charbonneau, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest and the Hawaiian Islands, visited Occidental’s campus Feb. 12 to discuss her organization’s fight against the threats the Trump administration has made to women’s health care. Charbonneau did not mince words about the threats Planned Parenthood and women’s health care rights are now facing under a Trump Administration.
“Rich women can get abortions no matter what the law is. And poor women cannot and die,” Charbonneau said.
As an undergraduate student at the University of Washington and self-described radical feminist, Charbonneau observed that legislation was attempting to limit access to vital family planning health services from disadvantaged communities. She started to volunteer at her local Planned Parenthood, doing everything from taking blood pressures to taking out the trash.
“It was so obvious to me that something needed to be done,” Charbonneau said.
During her time as CEO, a position Charbonneau has held since 1993, she said she has seen a tremendous amount of progress already, as the general public has become much more well-informed about reproductive health and women’s bodies than she ever imagined. Since she started as the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Seattle, Charbonneau’s position has only grown; now she manages more territory than any other Planned Parenthood branch nationwide.
“I wasn’t expecting her to be so positive,” Micaela Rosato-Stevens (junior), co-vice president of Planned Parenthood club, said. “I felt like I was meeting a Hillary Clinton figure, but one that I liked even more.”
Charbonneau pointed to the fact that unintended pregnancy rates are currently at a 30-year low, and likewise, the teen pregnancy rate has fallen to an all-time historic low. A recent Planned Parenthood poll found that 48 percent of Trump voters believe Planned Parenthood should not be defunded. Charbonneau said she believes it is the Trump Administration specifically that is planning to block access, not the opinion of the majority, or even the majority of Republicans.
“I thought I’d have a moment to breathe, Hillary Clinton would be the president of the United States, the Supreme Court would be fine and our big job would be preventing people from getting complacent,” she said. “That’s apparently not what’s going to happen.”
But this battle is one Charbonneau and the rest of Planned Parenthood are very prepared to win.
According to Charbonneau, the reinstitution of the Mexico City policy, colloquially known as the global gag rule, which cuts funding to any health program overseas that so much as refers women to a clinic where abortion is provided, is a major threat to women’s access to health care services internationally and in the most impoverished communities. Charbonneau also voiced serious concerns about the administration’s plan to repeal the Affordable Care Act and the lack of evidence that there will be a retention of the ACA’s specific protections for women’s health in whatever system replaces the ACA — chief among them ensuring equitable insurance coverage for women and the ability of programs like Medicaid to apply to any reproductive or contraceptive services a woman might need.
Charbonneau said that since the election, she’s become much more aware of the fact that the Trump administration is coming after Planned Parenthood specifically. Planned Parenthood has already been under Congressional review for the past five years over, Charbonneau said, nothing.
“I mean, really, nothing. It’s just one of those things you get used to,” she said.
Her day-to-day schedule changes constantly, but one of the biggest parts of her job is to fight legislative battles. Charbonneau said she tries to be as subversive and disruptive as possible. For example, rather than allowing men to control the oral contraceptive market, Charbonneau and two colleagues decided to found Afaxys, a company that makes high-quality oral contraceptives affordable and accessible to low-income communities and that is competitively keeping market prices low nationwide. Afaxys is now the second-largest supplier of oral and emergency contraceptives nationwide. Charbonneau was also excited about the implementation of Planned Parenthood Online, a new program offering virtual counseling and mail-order contraceptive delivery for women without immediate access to a brick and mortar Planned Parenthood location, or who would face stigma in their communities for seeking regular medical counsel.
For students wanting to get involved, Charbonneau suggests a releasing a collective statement as a campus about reproductive rights, making sure that local health care centers retain their ability to provide the community with contraceptive care and volunteering for their local Planned Parenthood and/or a local LGBTQIA organization. For students who are able, Charbonneau emphasized the importance of donations. When people sent in $10 donations to Planned Parenthood as a gift to Mike Pence for his birthday, everyone collectively raised $13 million. Charbonneau also spoke to the importance of voting.
“We can’t afford to have every election other than the presidential election look like a Republican primary if that’s what the agenda will be,” Charbonneau said.
At the beginning of the semester, Chase McCain (senior), co-president of Planned Parenthood club, said the club focused on figuring out how they could prevent the most damage from happening and how to salvage the situation.
“And then she came and just had a totally different perspective than what we’d all been thinking about as a club,” McCain said. “And it was very refreshing and very much needed for us.”