Dianne Luby recently stepped down after 13 years as president and CEO of Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, the state’s largest sexual and reproductive health care provider. She’s also leaving her post as president of the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts, the sister political organization.
Q. Just to set the record straight, what does Planned Parenthood do besides provide abortions?
A. More than 90 percent of our services are for preventive health care — cancer screening; family planning; testing, prevention, and treatment of sexually transmitted infections; birth control and contraception counseling; sexual health education.
Q. Tell me about the sex-ed piece.
A. We started our Sexual Health Matters campaign in 2007 and finished it last summer. We exceeded our $30 million goal. The concept is that we have to normalize sexual and reproductive health. We need to be talking much more honestly with kids about why sexual health is important and make it more a part of the conversation. So we decided to do public awareness, trying to get people to understand that you have to pay attention to your sexual health.
Q. What did the campaign entail?
A. We built a new Worcester health center; we installed electronic health records at our clinics, and opened new clinics in Milford, Marlborough, and Fitchburg. We devised a middle school curriculum called Get Real, and it is in 136 schools in Massachusetts. We really had to sell it, one school at a time.
Q. What does it teach?
A. The curriculum is about good decision-making, about anti-bullying, about how to negotiate putting off sexual initiation. Researchers told us that in grades 6, 7, and 8, the two people kids want to talk to most about this is their parents or their teachers.
Q. How do you teach the parents and teachers about these things?
A. We taught the teachers the curriculum; we put up a website, and teachers have chat rooms to share the experiences. We train the teachers to be trainers. We also do a parent education program in English and Spanish. For the children, there are take-home lessons to do with their parents, to enourage conversations.
Q. In the past year, women’s health issues really came under attack from conservatives.
A. More than 900 pieces of legislation were filed to limit services for women, including transvaginal ultrasound requirements and a three-day waiting period (for abortions). We can’t have politicians involved in personal decisions about women’s health. They need to stay out of it.
Q. What can Planned Parenthood do to combat such efforts?
‘We need to be talking much more honestly with kids about why sexual health is important and make it more a part of the conversation.’
A. We do endorsements. We watch what’s going on. We had really worked with Scott Brown from the outset, but he did not have a consistent position on sexual and reproductive health. Elizabeth Warren was consistently there with us, and so we endorsed her as someone we can count on 100 percent of the time.
Q. Last year, the Susan G. Komen foundation cut off funding to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screenings until a public outcry led to a reversal of the decision. How did all of this affect the Massachusetts chapter?
A. We got a resounding amount of letters of support and donations from people who were absolutely appalled by this. People said this is not OK. We had 2,000 more donors than in the previous year.
Q. How do you view the political landscape in Massachusetts regarding sexual education and reproductive rights?
A. Governor Patrick is totally supportive of us and always has been. That was not the case with Mitt Romney, who did such things as veto the Emergency Contraceptive Law in 2005, but was overridden by the Legislature. In Massachusetts, we aren’t spending all of our money combating bad laws, but one of our big challenges is that we should have a sexual education bill that would make sex ed part of the curriculum.
Q. Well, why don’t we?
A. The state Legislature will not bring it up. They just avoid it. There is the great influence of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts, and I think there’s a tendency in the male-dominated Legislature to not bring it up, to not talk about these issues.
Q. Do you fear for Roe v. Wade?
A. Well, I’m certainly happier that President Obama has gotten back in. I think we all have to pay attention to the gender gap that we saw in November. Todd Akin and those kind of [rape] comments in 2012 were beyond shocking, as was the Sandra Fluke and Rush Limbaugh controversy. Over and over, women were hearing that this pro-choice fight is not over. This was a real eye-opener for women to stand up and say that this is not OK.
Q. You were outspoken in advocating for the 2007 buffer-zone law, which keeps protesters 35 feet away from entrances and driveways of Planned Parenthood clinics. Do you still have protesters?
A. Every day. Every single day.Bella English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org