Dear Planned Parenthood,
I sit here and write this in the same way I would try and write to my own mother, expressing gratitude for how she has helped me. Thank you. You have helped me throughout my best and my worst. You have seen me at my weakest and you have encouraged me to do what is right for me.
I first went to you when I was a mere seventeen year old. Drunk off cheap wine, I ended up in a man’s room, a man who was ten years my senior. I didn’t want to have sex and he did, pushing and cajoling, blocking the doorway while telling me to relax. Not being okay with the answer of “no.” Tired, I asked him to at least use a condom, which he would slide off during sex. I would only realize this when it was considered “too late” and be told, “It wasn’t [his] problem.” I was angry, hurt, and scared. He was able to walk away from the situation he had manipulated so well and I was left to pick up the pieces of the consequences. I was the girl that I had been warned about- the one who didn’t take enough precautions, the one who had it coming, the one who had no one to blame but herself.
I panicked as I fled to what I thought was our city’s women’s center, but in actuality was a “crisis” center. At the time, I was living in the South and this was, unfortunately, all too common. As common as being denied birth control by pharmacists, as common as the embrace of abstinence sex ed while gonorrhea and syphilis outbreaks were happening, and as common as casting out pregnant teenagers, yet cheering the fathers absolved of any responsibility, worrying about their “bright future” and how these girls were going to “take it away.” These centers, now blindingly obvious to me, preyed on naivete, secrecy, and shame – mine at the time. They were set up for those moments of desperation and fear, waiting with open arms to convince young women of what they thought was the best decision to make.
The center was closed, thankfully. I managed to pick up some literature available in the front lobby. The brightly colored pamphlets with happy girls on the front talked about the sanctity of your child’s life, this glorious gift from God. Well… what about me? I was a child, yet 24 hours ago, someone hadn’t taken the same consideration of the sanctity of my own life, disregarding my own “no”s. Hot tears streamed down my face as I kept thinking how stupid I was, how embarrassing it all was, how I had messed up.
I ended up driving three hours to the only Planned Parenthood I could find in the telephone book. Each mile passed with an ensuing anxiety building inside me, defensively readying myself for any questions of what would my family think or lectures on my irresponsibility. When the doctor finally saw me, she asked me how I was, how am I feeling, am I okay? I was caught completely off guard.
I told her my situation and without judgment, without questions, without any side eyes or lectures, she told me exactly what my options were. I had no money and she gave me morning after pills for free, as per the sliding scale policy, as well as juice and crackers, since I would more than likely get sick. I cried afterwards, expelling all that I had built up about myself ““ I was so sorry I had messed up, that I had been irresponsible, that it was my fault. She held my hand, listening and only after I had purged all that I was able to, stated calmly, ” You aren’t alone.”
I’ve gone back every year after, for my chronic UTIs, my birth control, my Plan B, my pap smears and eventually my IUD. Never have I been made to feel that my choices were wrong, misguided or bad. Never was I made to feel lazy or irresponsible for my financial state. You supported each decision, giving me only the facts. You respected me as a person- as a woman, way before I had that same respect for myself. You have treated members of my family, friends, coworkers, partners, each time helping them in their time of need. You never judged, you always gave the support needed and let us know that no matter what; you were there for us.
Now you are under attack. The battle in Indiana is a reflection of what is to come. Reproductive justice is under attack in our country and you are on the front lines, a symbolic representation of everything that is wrong with the idea of “choice.” Planned Parenthood is the choice between those who have the means, who are above the law and those who will. If the law is allowed to stand, Planned Parenthood will have to close eight centers that serve low-income patients at two Indianapolis locations, as well as in Bedford, Hammond, Michigan City, New Albany, Terre Haute and Muncie. 50% of those patients will be below the poverty line. Those patients will not receive one of the 26,000 pap tests performed or one of the 30,000 breast exams.
We are at war.
We have to fight, not only for ourselves, but for everyone who has ever been helped by Planned Parenthood. While the collective we ranges in every walk of life, “we” are the ones who will pay in the end. How much we will pay will depend on the differences in our lives, the things that clearly separate us and grants us certain privileges whether through race, gender, class, or accessibility. I fear making generalizations, the gross oversimplification that leaves out the nuances and layers of each person’s experience, of each persons own struggle, of how this decision will affect them. “We” as a monolith, as persons who use and rely on Planned Parenthood, have been declared null and void.
And “we” need to take a stand.
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