I doubt there is a person in this country who’s life hasn’t been in some way touched by Planned Parenthood and the work they do. Many of them may not even know it; many of the people in my life don’t know it. There are a thousand stories about the work that this organization does and how it changed or save a life. This is mine.
In the summer of 2009, I was preparing to leave for a volunteer trip to Africa. With the intention of quitting my job, packing up my life and leaving the country for months, I fit in one last lady doctor appointment while I was still covered by insurance. I knew everything would be fine. I had been sleeping with one person for years, and I had been tested before and during the time we were together; this was a mere formality.
A month later, home in Boston with my family, I received a polite letter informing me that something was wrong with my pap smear. I needed a follow-up appointment. I had no insurance.
I had already escaped the possibility of cancer years before and quite frankly, I had other things to do with my time. I left for my trip and forgot about the letter. But because I am, despite my frequent best efforts, a responsible adult, I left the letter on my desk so it would be there when I got back. And so, heartsick and strangely homesick for my adopted country, very broke, dirty and exhausted, and physically ill, I returned home to face the very real possibility that something was deeply wrong with my health.
This would be where Planned Parenthood comes in.
At this point, I had been accepted to graduate school. I had always been employed. I had been a volunteer in Africa, I am a non-smoker and a runner, and I help little elderly people cross the street while distributing bunnies to sick children from a hat. I doubt the largely (straight?) white men who run this country could ask for a more responsible citizen (don’t tell them about all the super-queer sex I tend to have, as that might undermine my point). But no one would see me. Many doctors offices wouldn’t take me without insurance, even if I could afford to pay out of pocket which, given the thousands of dollars they wanted for each of multiple appointments to even tell me if something was wrong, I couldn’t. I did not want to wait what might be several crucial months longer to get insurance through my school. I had never used PP before – mostly because I had simply never needed to – but I called them now.
Among their questions was, “Do you have insurance?” It was not the first question; it was merely a way of determining not IF I could pay, or IF I could see someone, but HOW I would eventually pay, AFTER I had seen someone. And then they very simply, directly, told me what my appointment was likely to cost, and answered my questions about the cost of possible follow-up. They were the only office to deal realistically with the fact that my life, like so many others they saw, was in transition. And then I went in to see the doctor.
A few weeks later I knew it was bad; worse than I had let myself imagine, and they used the word “cancer”, although they also used the word “pre”. I didn’t want to alarm my family and friends so I made the arrangements, drove myself to the clinic, asked my questions and prepared for several unpleasant procedures to fix this tiny little question of cancer which just might be a tiny little question of whether I lived or died and if I lived, whether I could ever have children. I went, and then I went back, and then I went back again.
And every time I went, people screamed at me and called me terrible names, or gently told me about hell, or quietly handed me disgusting, terrible pictures.
On several of, by any stretch of the imagination, the absolute worst days of my life, people took the opportunity to say horrible, disrespectful things, things they would never otherwise believe they had the right to say, with no idea of why I was at my doctor’s office. I come from a comfy liberal sort of city; there were never many of them. But I thought of the hundreds of people a week who walked through that door for any reason, and I wondered how employees at the clinic got up every day and never snapped on these people, never told them what they really thought. I know I don’t have that strength, because at the end of my second visit, when a woman called out to me, some poor little soccer mom in sneakers, I turned on her. I told her about cancer and my terror that my young body was about to become a nuclear war zone. I told her about how it felt to know I would have to walk past her and the people like her, and how I hated her not for myself, but for all the desperate women who had come there for the reason she seemed to assume we all had. I thought about how bad they had made me feel for needing to fight cancer, and how much worse they must make women feel who were making one of the hardest decisions they’d would ever make in their lives.
After that day I began politely informing the protesters that I was there to have an abortion. I still do, every time I go. Because someone there may be, and I don’t think their needs are any less justified than mine. You’d think some of them would recognize me by now; you’d think just one of them would have figured out that I probably couldn’t be managing more than one abortion a week. But I think it’s possible they have never, ever bothered to actually look at me.
Without Planned Parenthood, I might have waited too long to have the appointments I needed to have. I might have had far more serious complications than the relatively minor procedures I underwent. And the people who love me may never think about it this way, but Planned Parenthood may have saved them from the loss of me. That is a worthwhile social investment, I think, and I will fight to keep it.