- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 29, 2008

Indiana residents in need of a quick stocking stuffer this holiday season have an unusual option: Planned Parenthood gift certificates.

The group’s Hoosier State chapter on Wednesday began selling gift certificates redeemable at any of its 35 facilities for any service provided — from basic health screenings to birth control to abortions.

Betty Cockrum, president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Indiana, said the program was initiated in response to the state’s ailing economy.

“Our patients are principally low-income women, and so, needless to say, those patients are more challenged now than ever,” Ms. Cockrum said. “We find that when women are [financially] strapped, they’re more worried about putting food on the table and gas in their car, and their health care is often put by the wayside.”

Almost 800,000 Indiana residents don’t have health insurance, she said.

Ms. Cockrum said the gift-certificate program is the first of its kind by any of Planned Parenthood’s 99 affiliates nationwide.

Pro-life groups — longtime opponents of Planned Parenthood — have denounced the voucher program, saying it will lead to more abortions in the state.

“It’s very typical of Planned Parenthood to pervert the meaning of Christmas, which is a time of life and selflessness and love and giving,” said Katie Walker, a spokeswomen with the American Life League, a Catholic pro-life activist group.

Ms. Walker added that the gift-certificate program is “another money-making opportunity to continue [Planned Parenthood] assaults on families through abortion and through artificial birth control, through the sexualization of our children with their obscene sex-ed programs.”

She also accused Planned Parenthood of targeting minority populations, saying that offering money or gift certificates takes advantage of the high rates of poverty in those communities.

“Planned Parenthood makes itself out to be this benevolent organization, but the fact is, they’re receiving money hand over fist,” she said. “It’s very much a business.”

Ms. Cockrum said that while the certificates may be redeemed for abortions, “I can’t imagine that could happen.”

“An abortion is a tragic and urgent situation in a women’s life, and gift certificates don’t lend themselves to that,” she said.

Ms. Cockrum added that the vast majority of services provided by Planned Parenthood are for basic health care, such as Pap tests, which cost $58 at the group’s centers.

“Even a gift certificate for $25 goes a long way toward what’s potentially a life-saving but certainly just essential, basic health care for a loved one,” she said.

The program has been endorsed by Dr. Judy Monroe, Indiana health commissioner, who called it a “really a meaningful gift.”

The certificates, which come in $25 increments, work like cash and come with no restrictions and no expiration date. They can be purchased at many of the group’s Indiana clinics and online, and can be used for some insurance co-payments and medication.

No other state affiliate has yet said whether it would accept the Indiana chapter’s vouchers.

Ms. Cockrum said that while it’s too early to judge the program’s success, she plans to offer the certificates year-round.

Planned Parenthood affiliates operate more than 880 centers nationwide.

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