Providing women’s health services and more since 1979

Amy Hadden Marsh
Post Independent Contributor

More than 90 percent of what is offered by Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM) are preventative healthcare services. The office at 50923 Highway 6&24 in West Glenwood Springs — one of 21 centers in Colorado — provides screenings for cervical, testicular and breast cancer, pregnancy testing and education about options, mid-life women’s health programs and hormone treatment, blood pressure and cholesterol monitoring, STD testing and treatment, confidential HIV testing, emergency contraception and birth control education, sexual health programs, and more.

“Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading women’s health care provider,” says Rebecca Sunshine, spokesperson for PPRM in Denver.

Rebecca Murray, manager of the Glenwood Springs center, said local PPRM services have expanded over the past decade. “We now provide colposcopy services.” That means if a woman has an abnormal PAP result, providers at the Glenwood Springs center can pinpoint the location of the abnormal cervical cells for a more specific biopsy.

HIV testing has also become more effective. “Ten years ago, we would swab the inside of a patient’s mouth, send [the sample] out for testing, and then wait for up to two weeks for the results,” said Murray. “Now we perform a [blood] test on-site and the results are ready in about 10 minutes.” In 2012, PPRM performed more than 15,000 HIV tests throughout its four-state region.

The Glenwood Springs center also works with local health care providers, school counselors and teachers, and with Colorado Youth Matter, a statewide organization promoting sex education in schools and communities. Last month, PPRM staff helped with the Glenwood Springs High School’s fourth annual Teen Health Fair, sharing information about contraception, STDs and PPRM services.

Sunshine said that PPRM also advocates for legislation, such as Colorado HB 1081, which Gov. Hickenlooper signed into law last May. “It provides a clear definition of comprehensive sex education and provides financial resources for schools to access sex education,” she explained.

PPRM is not against sexual abstinence. But Murray believes in teaching people, especially teens, how to protect themselves and make healthy decisions when it comes to sex. “We know that with access to comprehensive sex education, teens are more likely to delay sexual activity or use contraceptives and engage in safe sex,” she explained. “They [learn about] refusal skills, what is appropriate touch, and how to have a conversation about sex with a partner.”

On a national level, Planned Parenthood centers help prevent an estimated 684,000 unintended pregnancies annually, said Murray. And less than half of that involves abortion. The Glenwood Springs center provides medication abortion services on-site but refers patients to the Denver PPRM office for in-clinic, surgical abortions.

Murray said the decision to terminate a pregnancy is one of the most difficult and complex decisions a woman can make. “People need to know how important it is that abortion remains a safe and legal procedure,” she explained.

Both offices attract anti-abortion protesters practically every day. In Denver, said Sunshine, a typical protest includes a crowd with graphic signs and megaphones. “They recite prayers, encourage the women to make different choices, and say things to the staff,” she explained. “They are intimidating to all of our patients and [the protesters] don’t even know what the patient is coming to the clinic for.”

Protests are smaller and quieter in Glenwood Springs, often with less than five people with signs, walking or sitting on the sidewalk outside the center.

Sunshine said PPRM does not agree with the protesters’ tactics but doesn’t do anything to stop them. “Intentionally intimidating people trying to access health care services is wildly inappropriate,” she said “But it’s their First Amendment right.”

Nearly 100 years ago, Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood on the concept of equal rights. Since then, the organization has battled gag laws, local and national legislation threatening a woman’s right to govern her own medical decisions, and de-funding efforts. PPRM’s centers throughout Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada and New Mexico do not rely on public funding.

And, after 11 years on the job, Murray, who grew up in the Roaring Fork Valley, is still passionate about her work. “I was a teen mom and graduated from a local high school that had a teen mother program, “ she explained. She also accessed services from Planned Parenthood. “I remember coming in to Planned Parenthood and not feeling judged,” she said. “I was getting information about what was happening in my life from a medical perspective.” She said she’s proud of her work to protect health care for women across the country. “We work every day to protect that right.”

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