During a decade of running Planned Parenthood of Maryland, Daniel E. Pellegrom has seen two major changes -- one encouraging and the other frightening.
Because of the women's movement, men have become involved in family planning more than ever, Pellegrom said. At the same time, because of a radical fringe in the antiabortion movement, harassment and bombings now cast a shadow over the family planning issue.
Next month, Pellegrom, 40, an ordained Presbyterian minister who has been in the family planning field for 16 years, will leave Planned Parenthood to become executive director of the Pathfinder Fund, an international organization based in Boston that raises money to fight global hunger by addressing family planning issues and population problems.
In a recent interview at Planned Parenthood's Baltimore office, located on a section of North Howard Street that has escaped Baltimore's redevelopment efforts, Pellegrom spoke intensely of the changes surrounding efforts to plan family size to suit people's resources.
"One of the changes is that vastly more men accompany their partners than used to for family planning services and come to the waiting room and are interested in being involved in the decisions being made," Pellegrom said. He attributed the increased involvement to the strength of the women's movement. "If you walked into a family planning waiting room 15 years ago, you saw relatively few men," he said.
But other changes have included the growing fear of violence. Increased security has become part of the daily routine at Maryland's seven Planned Parenthood clinics. Last year, 11 Planned Parenthood clinics around the country, including one in Annapolis and another in Rockville, were bombed by antiabortion protesters. Agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have been unable to identify the bombers of the Maryland clinics.
From the window of his second-floor office, which is decorated with teakwood furniture, African art and pictures of his wife and two children, Pellegrom can see police and federal agents guarding the organization's state headquarters.
"The opposition -- people opposed to reproductive freedom or freedom of choice -- is a . . . growing menace in its intensity. It's become angrier, it's become more hostile, it's become a more volatile opposition," Pellegrom said, leaning forward to emphasize his point. "There's a fringe group that has become angrier on the picket lines, much more confrontational in their tactics with patients who try to cross the picket lines to get service."
Pellegrom said setbacks in Congress and the Supreme Court have frustrated, angered and radicalized an element in the antiabortion movement.
"If you combine people who are highly opposed to abortion, believe that they hold the moral truth and are self-righteous about that, with the recognition that they are not adding to their numbers, they have not penetrated into the mass population with their message, then you have a high degree of frustration," he said. "You combine self-righteousness with high frustration level, and you have an element that becomes angry and that is reactive. We have a highly charged situation at this point where some of those people who are part of the prolife community have even felt that their own leadership has been too moderate and are now willing to take the issue and law into their own hands.
Other changes Pellegrom has seen during his 10 years as director of Maryland Planned Parenthood include a younger population of patients seeking birth control, a "leveling off" of the number of abortions being performed nationwide and increased requests for sterilization from men and women over the age of 30.
Pellegrom said he does not expect a reversal of the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. He believes a change in abortion laws is needed to extend the choice of abortion to poor women and those without insurance who cannot afford an abortion.
And for Pellegrom, the shift from administration of state family planning to global family planning is one of scale only; the new opportunity will allow him to continue to espouse the philosophy that drives him.
"Life's too short to be involved in issues that are essentially neutral," he said. "I am attracted to the issue and to the subject partly because there is a compelling quality of involvement with a public policy issue and with a social issue that really is at one level intensely personal -- involving something as intimate as a person's health care, a person's reproductive decision -- and at the other side, something as global as the distribution of resources and as the quality of human life.