When Planned Parenthood South Texas opened its first office in San Antonio in 1939, it was in a small adobe house at the corner of Water and Goliad streets – an area that is now part of Hemisfair. In its first year, the clinic – called the Maternal Health Center until 1946 – provided birth control to 354 women at a cost of $3.31 per patient in 1939.

At the time, it was the only birth control clinic in the city, providing diaphragms and condoms – the only available contraception at the time.

Now celebrating its 80th year, the nonprofit organization provides family planning and sexual health care services at six clinics throughout San Antonio and two in the Rio Grande Valley and saw 18,821 patients – both men and women –  in 2018.

Planned Parenthood has continued to face steep criticism from social conservatives since founder Margaret Sanger opened the first clinic in New York City in 1916. Ten days later, she and others were arrested and the clinic closed down. Planned Parenthood clinics popping up in Texas in the 1930s faced similar battles, with the clinic operating out of Austin’s Brackenridge Hospital being forced to close following a 4-1 City Council vote in 1938 and those in Dallas, Waco, and Fort Worth, operating largely in secret.

Despite decades of legal setbacks, legislative roadblocks, and pushback from conservatives throughout the state and nation, the organization has continued to thrive, growing to more than 600 locations throughout the United States, 40 of which are in Texas. Services provided have also expanded past general contraception to include fertility services, treatment for sexually transmitted infections, cancer screenings, and gender-affirming hormone therapy.

Planned Parenthood South Texas President and CEO Jeffrey Hons has served in his role since 1999, helping guide the organization as it continues to grow from its starting budget of $2,814 annually in 1939 to the $8.4 million needed to provide services at less than $300 per patient today.

In a conversation with the Rivard Report, Hons spoke about how Planned Parenthood South Texas has forged on – despite hurdles presented by social conservatives and their political allies – due to unwavering community support that has only continued to increase over the years.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Rivard Report: You have spent your entire professional career working in family planning; how has support for women’s reproductive health care rights waxed and waned throughout the last several decades, and what are some of the driving forces behind those changes?

Jeffrey Hons: I started working in family planning because the profession is layered in my own values, including ecological well-being, women’s equality, and economic justice. People working in this field tend to share the same values, and people who support this work tend to share the same values, and they have for more than a century.

Throughout the years, Planned Parenthood has worked to show that we are the vanguard on educating America on sexual reproductive health and, in doing so, has had continuous community support. We are here to help people see a future with a better life, and there will always be support for that. While some of the services we provide, such as abortion, can be interpreted through a variety of different lenses – religious, political, medical – the bottom line is that people will fall in love, make love, make babies and the families they want, and they will want to do so responsibly.

Right now, 45 percent of the United States population is 34 years old or younger, and the majority of these people (69 percent) believe that health care should be government funded; 82 percent of those people believe contraception should be covered by insurance providers; 65 percent believe that there should be at least one local abortion provider in their community – and 45 percent of seniors hold this belief as well.

Support for Planned Parenthood South Texas, at a minimum, can be seen in our financials. Of our $8.4 million annual budget, a little over $4 million is from individual donors who either give small or very generous donations, and that has only increased over time.

Planned Parenthood is located at 920 San Pedro Ave.
Planned Parenthood at 920 San Pedro Ave. houses two of its six San Antonio clinics. It also has two in the Rio Grande Valley. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

There are amplified reactions that would lead people to believe that there is little support for our organization, but it is simply factually untrue. The driving force behind the narrative that there is less support for access to reproductive health care has been and always will be the marriage of politics and religion.

But the future holds a certain political reality where this last argument about religion is going to give way when you look at the age of the people who will be making decisions. For people under 40, there is no controversy about family planning and sexual health care. The family planning support we lost from the government will come back to us. The reason I am so sure of this is because some things change, and some things remain the same. People fall in love, people make babies, and they will want the information and medical care they need to have bright futures and bright lives.

RR: While Planned Parenthood offers a wide array of family planning services to patients, the ability for some clinics to provide abortion services dominates both local and national conversations about the organization’s mission and values. How does Planned Parenthood South Texas address the religious “pro-life” narrative that leads people to protest outside provider clinics and push legislators to defund the nonprofit because it provides abortions?

JH: The reality that doesn’t get talked about is that people throughout the nation are overwhelmingly on our side. I am not trying to be disrespectful, but those who oppose us are typically a small handful of white men over 50 years old.

What they are doing when they protest on the sidewalk is making public their ferocious appetite for attention. They are making a scene to draw public attention, and when they are acknowledged they believe it helps gives credence to their opinion. But the reality is that it is a misguided waste of time on their part.

The world is full of serious problems and this is what they think we should work on. What if they tried picking up single-use plastic junk? The world would be a better place if they did.

What we are doing at Planned Parenthood is inherently private – it’s not public information. We combat that narrative every day at our offices by doing everything we can to show we have enormous respect for the privacy of our clients who come to us for sexual health care. It might look like what they are doing is big, and what we are doing is small, but really it’s the inverse. We are creating positive change by doing our jobs and giving the best services possible to the people we serve, and for me, I have developed the strategic ability to ignore things that aren’t relevant to the great work we are doing. The essence of strategy is choosing what not to do. I am just not going to give them attention.

RR: What is one thing the organization has done that has made a big impact in helping Planned Parenthood South Texas sustain itself financially over the last 80 years?

JH: Planned Parenthood South Texas started accepting commercial health insurance plans in the 2000s. For the first few years, the entire commercial insurance revenue was around $25,000. This year, commercial insurance revenue will be over $1.5 million. We have purposefully built an internal system of revenue cycle management that includes a dedicated team that works to chase claims and reimbursements – just like any other health care provider.

And that is what is important to point out: We service all people, not just low-income individuals without insurance. We are a health care provider that works with people of varied financial means and insurance coverage. We provide a quality of care that makes people across generations return to us as their health care provider because we offer a full range of care, and people feel comfortable with us; otherwise, they wouldn’t keep coming back.

RR: What does the future hold for Planned Parenthood South Texas in terms of increasing and expanding services?

JH: What I find most exciting about our future is that this is an organization that isn’t going away. We are planning to launch a Planned Parenthood direct app where people can get their birth control prescriptions mailed to the home or a prescription sent to a local pharmacy. We are looking into telemedicine as a way to reach more people outside of our clinics, so that people who struggle with transportation or live in a rural area can access the health care they need. We will also continue to grow our services for transgender people needing gender affirming hormone therapy through educating people on the breadth of services available to our patients. We will also continue to promote our fertility services, because family planning absolutely includes helping people understand common causes of infertility and their treatment options.

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.