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This country is facing a racial reckoning — a necessary and painful understanding of systemic racism that permeates every area of our lives, including control over our bodies.

As our nation confronts COVID-19 and systemic racism, it must be said that if Black people do not have the right to bodily autonomy — or to protest without the fear of violence or murder — we can never achieve justice, let alone reproductive freedom.

As the new state director for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana, I embrace these challenges and look to move this organization forward. This starts with being in the community, making connections, acknowledging Planned Parenthood’s history, apologizing for these wrongs, committing to do better and rebuilding trust. 

There is a well-documented history of racism and violence in sexual and reproductive health care since the beginning of gynecology — from experiments on Black bodies based on claims that Black women experienced less pain, to testing the birth control pill on low-income women in Puerto Rico often without their consent, to the forced sterilization of Black women, to the lack of access to sexual and reproductive freedom that persists for Black women and many women of color today. 

We cannot address structural racism or white supremacy in this country without addressing our own. 

Planned Parenthood is an organization steeped in its own structural racism and white supremacy. It spills out in the ways we have failed to reckon publicly with our history, the make-up of our leadership at national and affiliate levels which is changing, though too slowly, our underinvestment in work aimed at engaging communities of color, and even our health care delivery. It ultimately stands in the way of fulfilling our mission to achieve reproductive freedom for all.

We at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky (PPAIK) recognize our past, profoundly and humbly apologize for it, and are committed to addressing and correcting bias and racism within our organization and our communities so we can improve real access to health care and education for all people. 

We are engaged in training and partnering with equity leaders to develop our awareness, knowledge and skills related to anti-racist leadership, culturally responsive communication, equity strategic planning and co-creating an environment that fosters inclusion for all. We’re also committed to supporting and lifting up Black organizations and leaders already at the forefront of this fight. We will follow their lead.

Public health by definition is built on the principle of saving lives. As public health providers and advocates, we are working to be part of the solution to the systemic challenges our community faces. 

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and people’s inability to control if and when they have children can contribute to feelings of helplessness and hopelessness — hallmarks of depression. A healthy community infuses hope and empowerment. We have tasked ourselves to be a part of creating healthy communities.

Our 15 health centers across the state provide cancer screenings, STI testing and treatment, abortion services, referral services and HIV PreP. As health care providers struggle to meet the demands of the pandemic, our doors remain open and we are, respectfully, here for you.

Planned Parenthood’s mission today is to build a world in which every person — regardless of their race, income, insurance, gender identity, sexual orientation, abilities or immigration status — can access expert, compassionate sexual and reproductive health care, information and education without shame or judgment. Planned Parenthood continues to provide quality, expert reproductive health care, and I will advocate alongside my colleagues for freedom of individual choice in all matters of sexual health across Indiana. We are here for you, no matter what.

You heard it directly from me: No one tells me what to do with my body; I will do everything in my power to make sure you have the freedom to make the decisions best for you. No politician should be making decisions about your body for you. 

LaKimba DeSadier is Indiana state director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Indiana and Kentucky.

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