INDIANAPOLIS – At the Planned Parenthood of Indiana, 'tis the season of giving health care and contraception. But it's a sentiment that opponents of abortion and artificial birth control say denigrates the holiday season.
The network of 35 clinics across the state announced it is offering holiday vouchers for basic health care services "or the recipient's choice of birth control method."
The organization decided to offer the vouchers because so many people are uninsured or are putting off health care because of prohibitive costs, said Betty Cockrum, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Indiana. Nearly 800,000 Indiana residents don't have health insurance, she said.
Planned Parenthood's annual exams for women, which include Pap tests and breast exams, typically cost $58. The vouchers can be used for the exams, but also for insurance copays and for medication.
Opponents of abortion said Planned Parenthood was making a "mockery" of the holiday season.
"The tragedy is that almost 6,000 fewer children will be celebrating a first Christmas this year because they were aborted in Planned Parenthood's Indiana clinics," said Mike Fichter, president and CEO of Indiana Right to Life.
Planned Parenthood of Indiana operates abortion clinics in Indianapolis, Merrillville and Bloomington.
"They deserve coal in their stocking, not money for lethal gift certificates," said Sister Diane Carollo, director of the Office for Pro-Life Ministry for the Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis.
But Cockrum said the vouchers were about giving basic health care, and potentially lifesaving care.
"Birth control is the best way to avoid unintended pregnancy. Avoiding unintended pregnancy is the best way to reduce abortion" rates, Cockrum said. She added that her organization performs abortions on only about 5,000 of the 92,000 patients it sees annually.
The vouchers could be applied to the cost of an abortion. "I certainly don't think anyone would consider giving it for that purpose," spokeswoman Kate Shepherd said.
The organization dispenses more than 500,000 units of birth control each year including pills, condoms, diaphragms, spermacides and morning-after pills, she said.
Indiana Health Commissioner Dr. Judy Monroe applauded the idea, calling it a "really a meaningful gift."
Spokeswoman Diane Quest of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America said the Indiana branch is among a handful of its 99 affiliates that currently offer gift certificates or have done so in the past.
The gift certificates can be purchased in increments of $25 online or for any dollar amount at some Planned Parenthood of Indiana health centers.