2017 Lasker~Bloomberg Public Service Award

Essential health services and reproductive care

For providing essential health services and reproductive care to millions of women for more than a century

The 2017 Lasker~Bloomberg Public Service Award honors Planned Parenthood for providing essential health services and reproductive care to millions of women for more than a century. Approximately one in five women in the U.S. have received its assistance at some point during their lives. Without Planned Parenthood, many individuals would not have access to high-quality and affordable health care. Although the organization is most famous for aiding women, it helps men as well. In 2015, its almost 650 U.S. health care centers served 2.4 million people.

In 1916, a time when publishing pamphlets on contraception was illegal, Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic in the U.S. and thus laid down roots for the institution that would grow into Planned Parenthood. Women of Brooklyn and beyond waited with their baby buggies to pay 10 cents for accurate information that was difficult to find elsewhere: basic education about the reproductive system and instructions about how to avoid pregnancy. Sanger believed that women’s welfare—and that of their families—depended on their ability to decide whether and when to have children. Ten days later, Sanger was arrested and the clinic was shut down. She reopened it after serving her 30-day sentence. In 1921, Sanger established the American Birth Control League.

In 1937, Mary Lasker read about the intrepid Sanger. Impressed by her bravery and drawn by the idea that people should determine the size of their own families, Lasker made a donation to the American Birth Control League and subsequently joined its board. Albert Lasker supported Sanger’s work as well, and he proposed a new name for her operation—one that better reflected its positive mission and that might ease its public acceptance. In 1942, his suggestion was accepted, and the organization became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Since its inception, Planned Parenthood has upheld Sanger’s commitment to reproductive rights.

Steered by the principle that women need information and care to live strong, healthy lives, the agency now operates in 50 states and its impact spans the globe. In addition to family planning services, it provides a range of preventive care. For example, its health centers screen for breast and cervical cancer, and they combat sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Planned Parenthood’s widely respected sex education programs reach 1.5 million people every year.

In 2015, Planned Parenthood dispensed contraception to more than 2.5 million women. It performed more than 320,000 breast examinations and almost 295,000 Pap tests. These procedures revealed cancer or precancerous abnormalities in almost 72,000 women. The organization provided 4.2 million tests and treatments for STIs, including HIV; its workforce diagnosed more than 200,000 STIs. The same year, Planned Parenthood administered 22,000 human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccinations (whose development is being honored by this year’s Lasker~DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award), which protect against the high-risk HPV types that cause more than 70 percent of cervical cancer and contribute significantly to HPV-induced cancers of the anus, penis, vagina, vulva, and throat.

Men as well as women receive sex education and direct care from Planned Parenthood, including STI services and free or low-cost condoms. Some centers screen men for cancer, perform vasectomies, offer testing and treatment for urinary tract infections, and provide erectile dysfunction education, exams, treatment, and referrals.

Collectively, Planned Parenthood health centers delivered 9.5 million services during 2015. Its STI and contraception activities are the most frequently accessed. STI tests and treatments, contraception, cancer screening and prevention, and abortion comprise, respectively, 45 percent, 30 percent, 7 percent, and 3 percent of the agency’s activities. Planned Parenthood’s efforts in the area of contraception and family planning have contributed significantly to a drop in the unintended pregnancy rate in the U.S., which hit a 30-year low point in 2011, the most recent date for which data are available. Similarly, in 2014, the abortion rate fell to its lowest level since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

Many women have nowhere other than Planned Parenthood to turn for basic medical services. Its highly trained clinicians and counselors provide essential, low-cost care. Three-quarters of Planned Parenthood’s clientele have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level—the equivalent of $36,900 a year for a family of four in 2017. More than half of its health centers operate in rural or otherwise medically underserved areas, and its family planning programs are commonly the only ones available for many residents.

Planned Parenthood’s crucial role in the U.S. medical care system has been highlighted by the number and prominence of professional organizations that have emphasized the importance of ongoing federal funding for the agency. The American Medical Association, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Public Health Association, and dozens of other organizations that represent health care and public health professionals have ardently advocated continued backing for Planned Parenthood.

Although Planned Parenthood’s direct contact with patients ends at our nation’s borders, it supports partners in 12 Latin American and African countries, to deliver reproductive health information and services to people in some of the world’s most neglected regions. The resulting programs have reached more than 1.5 million clients.

Planned Parenthood has helped woman manage their fertility for more than 100 years, and it now provides a range of preventive, life-saving medical services. Through its direct work with individuals as well as its advocacy, the agency has spearheaded—and continues to lead—efforts that protect the health of women and families.

by Evelyn Strauss

Award presentation by Patricia Harris

Good afternoon. I have the privilege of introducing this year’s Lasker-Bloomberg Public Service Award recipient. The award honors exceptional individuals or organizations that have strengthened medical research, public health, or healthcare in ways that significantly benefit the greater good.

The Lasker Foundation is an amazing organization. So I want to recognize Dr. Pomeroy, board chair Mike Overlock, and, especially, board member Al Sommer who is a longtime friend, the chair of the Lasker-Bloomberg Award selection committee, and also an outstanding member of Bloomberg Philanthropies’ board.  

When Mike Bloomberg endowed this award in 2011, our goal was to help recognize those who are making the biggest difference in the greatest number of lives, which is also our foundation’s mission.

In the past, winners like Doctors Without Borders and Bill and Melinda Gates exemplified our goal. This year’s Lasker-Bloomberg Award recipient – Planned Parenthood – is a perfect example of our mission.

Planned Parenthood was founded a century ago on the idea – which was revolutionary at the time – that every woman should have access to the care and information needed to live a healthy life. 

At Bloomberg Philanthropies, we’ve gotten the chance to see how effectively it carries out its mission to provide high-quality, affordable healthcare. We’ve supported their work protecting the health and rights of women and families in Nicaragua, Burkina Faso, Senegal, and Uganda. And in the U.S., when others have withdrawn funding due to political pressure, Mike Bloomberg has doubled down on his longtime support.

Across the world, Planned Parenthood works to provide better access to contraception, opposes laws that restrict a woman’s right to choose, and uses evidence to show that expanding reproductive health access not only reduces unintended pregnancies, but also empowers women and strengthens communities.

Unfortunately, even after a hundred years, their work is far from over. In fact, Planned Parenthood is facing more attacks than at any point in decades. Washington has blocked foreign aid – through the global gag rule – to any organization that even mentions abortion as an option and Congress has been threatening to join a number of states that have attempted to cut off funding to the group.

Forty years after Roe v. Wade, we can’t allow our country to take steps backwards! And I can assure you that Planned Parenthood is not backing down and neither are their supporters.

There is no one who could lead these efforts more effectively than Cecile Richards. Cecile is a tireless advocate of women’s health rights and has built an incredible team and an amazing board – including current board chair Naomi Aberly and former chairs Jill Lafer and Alexis McGill Johnson, who are all here today.

Most recently they ensured that Planned Parenthood would continue to receive federal funds to support their work and were crucial in expanding access to contraception for 55 million women under the Affordable Care Act – a truly remarkable achievement!

Cecile’s mother, Ann Richards, was a legendary governor of Texas and I’ve read that she liked paraphrasing the 20th century poet Edna St. Vincent Millay’s saying, "Life isn’t one thing after another. It’s the same damn thing over and over."

When it comes to women’s rights and healthcare this quote is far too often true. We face the same challenges over and over.  

But we have and will continue to make progress thanks to Planned Parenthood – and leaders like Cecile, Naomi, Jill, and Alexis – with the determination, dedication, and drive to meet any challenge along the way.

I could not think of a more deserving recipient of the Lasker-Bloomberg Award.

Planned Parenthood

Acceptance Remarks by Cecile Richards

Jury

2017 Lasker~Bloomberg Public Service Award Jury

Chris Jones ● Barbara Barrett ● Alfred Sommer, Chair of the Jury ● Sherry Lansing ● Willard J. Overlock, Jr.

Not pictured: Robert Tjian ● Elias Zerhouni

Video Credit: Flora Lichtman