Most observers seem to agree that the community outreach director at the Greater Manchester Family YMCA goofed: She took a group of about 30 middle schoolers on a brief visit to the city’s Planned Parenthood office, unbeknownst to their parents.
But should Joyce Palmer have lost her job over it?
The New Hampshire clinic was one of 10 stops on a “Social Services Scavenger Hunt” field trip for a program called Support, Tutoring and Adventure for Youth (STAY), which serves disadvantaged kids who might drop out of school.
The youths also visited a teen health clinic, a families-in-transiition agency and a child and family services organization. But it was the under-five-minute stop at Planned Parenthood – which provides abortions as well as preventive health care services – that created a media firestorm and prompted investigations by the YMCA and the board of the Manchester School District, which partners with the Y on STAY.
The kids visited a Planned Parenthood conference area adjacent to the medical clinic, where they were briefed on the organization’s health services, said Ann Larney, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. Larney and the YMCA say it was the first time STAY pupils had visited a Planned Parenthood office and that abortion was never discussed.
The students ran into about eight anti-abortion protesters on their way out. New Hampshire Right to Life, which opposes abortion, subsequently complained about the field trip, which set off the media coverage and investigations.
The YMCA review revealed that Palmer’s parental field-trip permission slips did not name the agencies the youths would visit, and she didn’t inform Harold J. Jordan, CEO of her YMCA, that Planned Parenthood was on the list of stops.
“If I had known about the visit to Planned Parenthood, I would not have approved it,” Jordan said in a subsequent report by the Y.
Larney agreed that parents should have been informed about the field-trip details, but didn’t want to say whether Palmer should have resigned over it. As long as parents approve, she said, there is nothing wrong with middle school kids learning about Planned Parenthood’s work, the vast majority of which involves services other than abortions, such as sexually transmitted disease screening, routine pap smears, immunizations and counseling.
New Hampshire Right to Life issued a news release questioning the use of taxpayer dollars to expose youth to an organization that it says promotes abortion without informed parental consent.
Even though no STAY parents complained or removed their kids from the program, according to Jordan, Palmer couldn’t ride out the controversy. She agreed to resign in late June.
Palmer could not be reached for comment.
Jordan said he has revised several of the program’s policies, including establishing written procedures to inform parents and school officials about STAY field trips.
Contact: Greater Manchester Family YMCA (603) 623-3558, http://www.gmfymca.org.