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A Champion for Women’s Reproductive Rights

Helen Burnett

Helen was born in 1928, the second of two children. Her mother pleaded with her father not to get her pregnant again as they couldn’t afford another child. He ignored her concerns and a third child arrived. A year later, Helen’s father abandoned his wife and children, leaving them with no money and no means of support in the middle of the Great Depression.

Helen’s mother turned to prostitution, the only option available to women of that era who had no family or financial resources to tum to. However, she was unable to care for all of her children and put Helen up for adoption. Helen was adopted by an abusive alcoholic and his wife. The alcoholic died when Helen was 12, and her adoptive mother sent her to an orphanage where she remained until her 18th birthday.

During the entirety of Helen’s reproductive life, she lived in a world where women could not get credit cards, qualify for a mortgage or enter a bar unaccompanied by a man. Condoms were readily available, but most men refused to wear them and diaphragms for unmarried women were difficult to obtain. Pregnant, young girls were shamed and blamed, stigmatized and hidden away in homes for unwed mothers while the wealthy whisked off their pregnant daughters to places where abortion was legal. The rest were left with wire coat hangers, knitting needles and back-alley abortions.

In spite of, or perhaps because of her history and the many roadblocks thrown in her path, Helen became a strong and independent woman. She worked hard, went to college and had a long and distinguished career as an elementary school teacher. She was warm, loving, funny, outspoken, opinionated and fiercely supportive of women’s reproductive rights. She celebrated the arrival of the birth control pill in the ‘60s and Roe v Wade in 1973, and angrily denounced those who have been trying to take us back to the world she was born into where contraception and abortion were illegal and men had absolute control over women’s bodies.

Helen loved and honored Margaret Sanger for the sacrifices she made and all that she accomplished. She wanted her legacy to live on. That is why she has left Planned Parenthood the bulk of her estate.

Like Helen, you, too, can help ensure that women continue to have access to the highest quality reproductive and sexual health care by including Planned Parenthood in your estate plan. Contact the Development Office at 303.813.7638 or [email protected] to learn more.

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