In Support of Planned Parenthood

My wife, Sue, and I support Planned Parenthood. We have been financial donors for years and Sue has served on the Board of Planned Parenthood Chicago. The work of this organization is critically important. Planned Parenthood provides family planning consultation, birth control, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STI’s), 500,000 breast exams and 400,000 pelvic exams per year. The services the organization provides in 700 centers are an important component of women’s health care in our nation. More than 5 million women, men and adolescents every year turn to Planned Parenthood for help. For thousands of women, many of whom are low-income, Planned Parenthood has been and is the only accessible, affordable source of health services.

Much of Planned Parenthood’s work stems from its original purpose of preventing unwanted pregnancies. Something like 80% of clients receive birth control services. Planned Parenthood estimates that it is responsible for preventing 516,000 unwanted pregnancies annually which, if even close to accurate, means that Planned Parenthood alone prevents a lot of abortions.

3% of Planned Parenthood’s work involves providing abortion services. Raw statistics became lived reality for me when my spouse served as a volunteer “Accompanier”, or clinic escort. Her job was to be with a Planned Parenthood client before, during and after the abortion procedure, to simply be a caring presence. She held hands, patted, reassured a wide spectrum of women and girls who came to Planned Parenthood, each with a uniquely urgent set of circumstances. After every time she volunteered she related her experiences to me and confirmed, for both of us, the importance of what she was doing and the critical need Planned Parenthood was filling. One client was an East Asian graduate student at Northwestern University. Her pregnancy, if continued to term, would mean the termination of her academic program, return to her country in shame, and the end of her dream of a career in research biochemistry.

And there were young women, high school students, for whom a pregnancy would mean a serious, perhaps conclusive, diversion in her young life. Sue related how, for each woman she accompanied, the decision to terminate her pregnancy came after a long and serious struggle, often with religious and moral overtones. “No one I met” she said “did this casually.” Many women expressed feelings of guilt, self-loathing, and the sense that God could never love them again. Sue assured them that God is gracious and that God most certainly continued to love them.

I know all the arguments against abortion, the complex matter of when human life begins. I’m familiar with the reasons faith communities and faithful people are opposed to most, if not all, abortions. I know that some regard abortion as murder. I do not. I do not claim to know when a fertilized ovum becomes a human being, but I’m satisfied that it is not at the moment of conception. Mostly, I believe that the question of whether or not to have an abortion is one that the woman, in conversation with her spouse, partner, physician and spiritual adviser should be free to make herself. I base that belief on the responsibility given to human beings by God in the story of creation. I do not think it is a matter for elected officials or judges to decide. I am not for abortion. Who is? I am for choice and would be happy if the decision about when and if to have children is left to women.

I view with concern the fact that abortion has become a litmus test at this moment for a portion of the electorate and a hot button issue politically and that Planned Parenthood, and its financial future, is under attack. And I lament that positions are drawn so sharply on the issue that civil conversation is virtually impossible and quickly disintegrates into name calling and personal accusation and insult. I lament that the heat generated by abortion opponents has in the past expressed itself in violence. I have tried to have a civil conversation in which both sides listened to and respected the position of each other but have not succeeded. When I announced that I was leaving my church in Columbus, Ohio 30 years ago a local anti-abortion group picketed on the sidewalks outside the church and in the parking lot because I had spoken in favor of choice. A colleague and I went out to meet the protestors and invited them into my study to talk. Almost immediately I found myself accused of murder and could not get a word in. On my last Sunday the protestors  were back, this time carrying huge signs with the inscription “Buchanan – Baby Killer”. “Good Riddance”; quite a send off for a father of five and grandfather of 13. Sadly the public discourse around the issue has not improved much.

One thing is clear to me: the good and important work that Planned Parenthood does must continue. The organization provides critical services to many thousands of people and should not fall victim to ideological warfare in Congress.


  1. AMEN, JMB!! I’m proud of you and Sue!

  2. Suzanne Swanson MD says:

    Well said….you are a good and faithful servant.

  3. Kristi Peterson says:

    A wise, compassionate, spiritual leader – widely respected in Chicago and throughout the world – former Senior Pastor at Fourth Presbyterian Church – now retired – Dr. John Buchanan: You could have shied away from declaring your support for Planned Parenthood, but you did not. Thank you. So many times, from the pulpit, you helped to open my eyes and my heart, and you’ve done it again. I support Planned Parenthood and its outreach so this is not the lesson I take from you tonight. Through your example, I am reminded that confronting an issue, declaring a belief, admitting doubt, extending support has such weight and depth and impact. Too often, I’m not bold and brave enough when it should and does matter. Sue Buchanan – you, too, have had an enormous impact on the lives you’ve touched. I am warmed by the image of your elegant grace, gentle touch and the strength of your example and leadership. Thank you both for being advocates and leaning in – with thoughts, words and deeds.

  4. Thank you for your words, your courage, and your care. Also, thank you for reminding me of what I’ve always loved about being Presbyterian.

  5. says:

    I was at an event recently with the distinguished wounded veteran and Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, Democrat of Illinois. She grew up in a low-income household where she remembered going to bed hungry. She worked her way through college where she turned to Planned Parenthood for her health care. She had nothing but scorn for those who would deny poor women access to the resource which helped her when she needed it.

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