Through education, advocacy, and direct services, Planned Parenthood seeks to ensure healthy sexuality, family health, and access to high-quality sexual and reproductive healthcare.
The topic of reproductive education and healthcare has long been a source for debate both nationally and in Arkansas. At the height of the Depression, Little Rock (Pulaski County) activist Hilda Cornish was convinced that the ability to limit family size could be crucial to a family’s financial survival. In February 1931, Cornish established the Little Rock Birth Control Clinic, the first such service in Arkansas. Services were provided at a minimal fee for any married woman whose family made less than $75 per month. Establishment of this clinic was met with public resistance; one woman wrote, “I am not interested in the advice and supplies you are peddling. Women should not stoop to such practices.”
Seeing the need for services beyond Pulaski County, Cornish also helped organize birth control clinics in Fort Smith (Sebastian County), Trumann (Poinsett County), Hot Springs (Garland County), Pine Bluff (Jefferson County), and Fayetteville (Washington County). In 1940, under Cornish’s leadership, the Planned Parenthood Association of Arkansas was successful in convincing the University of Arkansas Medical School (now the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences) to include birth control methods in its curriculum and provide services at the University Hospital. With the addition of these new services, the Little Rock Birth Control Clinic was closed.
Over the next fifteen years, the Planned Parenthood Association of Arkansas found it increasingly difficult to find funding. In October 1955, the board of directors decided to dissolve the organization. Planned Parenthood did not exist in central Arkansas for the next nearly thirty years.
Planned Parenthood in Arkansas was revived in 1984. In response to an attempt to include the Unborn Child Amendment in the November general election, the Planned Parenthood Federation of America sent two staff members to Little Rock to assist local activists, led by Brownie Ledbetter, in campaigning against the measure. Just over a week before the November election, the Arkansas Supreme Court removed the amendment from the ballot.
From these efforts in 1984 came the organization Arkansans for Reproductive Health, which developed into Planned Parenthood of Greater Arkansas, located in Little Rock. On October 28, 1985, Planned Parenthood of Greater Arkansas was incorporated as an affiliate of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. While protesters marched down Arch Street, Planned Parenthood of Greater Arkansas held its first birthday party at the restored home of Hilda Cornish in September 1986. In 1987, the Planned Parenthood health center was opened at a West Markham location. The health center moved to its current 12th Street location in 2006.
In 1998, Planned Parenthood of Greater Arkansas merged with Planned Parenthood of Oklahoma and Western Arkansas. The new affiliate became officially known as Planned Parenthood of Arkansas and Eastern Oklahoma, Inc. (PPAEO). In 2012, PPAEO merged with Planned Parentood of the Heartland; aside from Arkansas and Oklahoma, the new affiliate operates centers in Iowa and Nebraska. In 2016, the Arkansas and Oklahoma centers changed their affiliation to Planned Parenthood of the Great Plains, based in Overland Park, Kansas. Planned Parenthood provides the following services: annual reproductive health exams, breast and cervical cancer screening, testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections for men and women, pregnancy testing, counseling and referrals, contraceptive information and methods, HIV testing, and emergency contraception. Planned Parenthood offers medication abortion, but a 2015 law required the presence of a physician when a woman took an abortion-inducing medication; a series of appeals followed, and on May 29, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear a challenge to the law.
In March 2015, the Arkansas General Assembly passed SB 569, which denies any state funding to Planned Parenthood or any social service agency that refers patients to abortion providers; this includes grants for programs not related to abortion, such as disease prevention programs. Governor Asa Hutchinson announced on August 14, 2015, that the Arkansas Department of Human Services planned to terminate its Medicaid contract with Planned Parenthood, thereby ending Medicaid reimbursements for people who seek healthcare there. Some officials have stated that this could violate federal law by restricting Medicaid recipients from receiving care from a qualified health provider. In response, Planned Parenthood filed suit on September 11, 2015, in order to restore this funding. On October 2, 2015, a federal judge issued a preliminary injunction stopping the state from cutting off Medicaid payments to the organization. However, on August 16, 2017, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court ruling, allowing the state to re-institute its ban on funding Planned Parenthood.
In July 2019, the Fayetteville clinic was closed after a long struggle to find a new location, leaving the Little Rock clinic the only Planned Parenthood operation in the state for the time being. In September 2021, Planned Parenthood returned to northwestern Arkansas with a clinic in Rogers (Benton County).
For additional information:
Arkansas Eugenics Association and the Little Rock Birth Control Clinic Files. History of Public Health in Arkansas Collection. Archives Collections. University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Library, Little Rock, Arkansas.
Leung, Marianne. “‘Better Babies’: The Arkansas Birth Control Movement During the 1930s.” PhD diss., University of Memphis, 1996.
Peacock, Leslie Newel. “Planned Parenthood: More Than Abortion.” Arkansas Times, May 26, 2016, pp. 14–21. Online at http://www.arktimes.com/arkansas/planned-parenthood-more-than-abortion/Content?oid=4423326 (accessed May 26, 2016).
Planned Parenthood. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/ (accessed September 30, 2016).
Little Rock, Arkansas
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