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Planned Parenthood leader speaks of new support

These days may be both the best of times and the worst of times for Planned Parenthood, a national leader for the women's health advocacy agency told local supporters Wednesday at a celebratory event.

Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood, was the keynote speaker at Planned Parenthood of Western New York's annual "Celebrate with Friends" event, held in the Mary Seaton Room at Kleinhans Music Hall.

Nationally, the group has been a lightning rod for Republican politicians and some religious leaders, with criticisms increasing during this presidential election campaign season.

Despite the negative attention or, perhaps, as a result of it, Laguens said, Planned Parenthood, in the past year, has gained 1.5 million new active supporters.

"We have an expanded ability to provide breast health and education services as a result of that controversy," Laguens said during an interview before her speech.

"So it might be the best of times, worst of times but, ultimately, we're providing services each and every day that women across this country need. They know that and they stand up for that when that's threatened," Laguens added.

Karen J. Nelson, chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Western New York, said Wednesday's annual dinner was held to honor the agency's local donors, volunteers and ambassadors for their contributions to the agency.

Planned Parenthood runs five medical locations across Erie and Niagara counties, providing reproductive health care and sexuality education. The agency also provides advocacy for access to health care for women across the entire region.

"We see about 13,000 people in our local offices every year, including 1,000 men. Many people don't know that men and women come to us, too," Nelson said.

"We do [sexually transmitted disease] prevention testing and treatment for men," she added.

Nationally, Laguens said, Planned Parenthood provided 750,000 breast exams, as well as providing two million women with birth control, four million people with access to screening and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and 770,000 women with pap tests.

"So, we're a major health care provider for women in this country, and one of the leading providers of women's reproductive care," Laguens said. "So, people know us in the communities around this country. They are scratching their heads, because they are saying 'why are you politicizing women's health?' "

Some organizations, most of them Catholic-affiliated, have filed lawsuits against the federal government for provisions in the Affordable Health Care Act that require them to provide access to birth control for their women employees who want it. Laguens said Planned Parenthood remains on the side of women maintaining that access.

"When people say we aren't going to cover birth control the same way we cover other preventive health services, that's a $500-a-year cost to a family. That's many tanks of gas, five weeks of groceries for an average family," she said.

"So these are not just health issues or social issues, they're economic issues that are central to women's lives and to their families' lives," she added.