by Joey Hoffman
What would you do if your mother endured 18 pregnancies in 22 years? Margaret Sanger, the iconic birth control activist, sex educator and nurse, fueled by this grim fact about her own matriarch, opened the Brownsville clinic in a Brooklyn storefront in 1912, the first birth control clinic in the United States, which would morph into the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Like Sanger, Carol Bloch, Honorary Chair of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland (and ironically born and raised in Brooklyn) is an effusive advocate for women’s reproductive rights.
“I got involved with Planned Parenthood because I believed then, and I still do, that all people who want vital accurate sexuality education, reproductive health services and birth control information should be able to obtain it regardless of their ability to pay,” says Bloch.
In 1980, a friend asked Bloch to help start a “Friends of Planned Parenthood” group as an informational and fundraising arm of Planned Parenthood of Omaha-Council Bluffs, a grassroots venture reminiscent of yet another Margaret’s creed. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead.
Planned Parenthood of the Heartland’s roots go back to the mid-1930s, when the first clinic in Iowa opened and has expanded to now offer reproductive health care services to women and men in Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska and Eastern Oklahoma.
Highlights of their victories include:
• 1962 Planned Parenthood of Omaha begins dispensing birth control pills.
• 1974 Des Moines center offers abortion services.
• 1988 Sex education is mandated in Iowa public schools.
• 1995 Surgical abortion services are made available in Lincoln.
• 2008 Planned Parenthood of Greater Iowa begins Telemedicine providing health services via sophisticated video technology at their remote clinics.
Despite these triumphs, however, access to quality and affordable contraception and abortion services has become a political rather than a medical issue. “We are fighting some of the same battles of providing reproductive services that we battled 30 years ago,” Bloch says. “It can be very discouraging, but we cannot give up. The mission is too critical. I believe that every person has the right to decide when or whether to have a child and every child has the right to grow wanted and loved.”
One of the latest barriers that threaten women’s right to choose is a new bill in the Missouri state legislature which proposes women must get a man’s permission before getting an abortion. “Our elected officials need to be continually reminded that family planning and abortion decisions are personal. Abortion must remain safe, legal and available, and the decision whether or not to have one must be private, religious and medical.”
She continues: “If a woman does not believe in abortion, she should not have one. That is her ‘choice.’ But, politicians or religious extremists do not have the right to make decisions about my reproductive health for me. Why can’t politicians understand that family planning services, along with factual information, do more to prevent the need for abortion than anything else we know?”
At their annual Choice Affair fundraiser (a.k.a. “Friendraiser”), Friends of Planned Parenthood honored Bloch. It was a record-breaking event that drew more members and volunteers than ever and helped the organization exceed their goal, raising over $11,000, clearly reflecting the effect of Bloch’s foresight and leadership on the community.
“Carol is a hero,” says says Maggie Wood, Regional Development Director for Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. “A fierce, talented, creative force who is not afraid to say out loud how things can be better. She points out issues and solutions and helps me understand the history of the organization. She’s my favorite kind of person.”
Bloch has also garnered praise and respect for her efforts in Jewish community causes. She has served on boards of the National and local NCJW (1996-2002), Jewish Social Services (2004-13) and ADL Regional Board Member (2004-present). Awards include, but are not limited to, NCJW, Omaha Section Distinguished Service Award (1990), Jewish Federation of Omaha Community Service Award (2000) and the NCJW Hannah G. Solomon Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service (2000).
Two Brooklyn girls, one mission. Sanger and Bloch’s legacy reverberates throughout the community, reflecting a steely resolve. “There will always be people who need Planned Parenthood’s services,” Bloch said. Statistics show that one in five American women has chosen Planned Parenthood for her health care needs at least once in her lifetime.”
Women supporting women, a dauntless sorority indeed.