LTE: Confessions of a Planned Parenthood Patient
My local Planned Parenthood clinic just closed because Iowa legislators decided to defund it. I’ve thought a lot about how a bunch of guys who have probably never stepped foot in one had a strong enough opinion on PP to decide to effectively dismantle it. I realized that a lot of people probably don’t really realize what kind of things actually happen behind those closed doors or why women go there, so I thought I’d enlighten them. So here it goes, buckle in, this is the inside scoop on one woman’s experiences with Planned Parenthood.
When I had my first serious boyfriend my dad sat me down for the sex talk. He was much more cool about it than a lot of parents would be. He told me all the reasons why I should wait, followed by the frank admission that sex is great though and that he understood I’d want to have it someday. He told me that he’d rather I tell him I need to get on birth control than to tell him I was pregnant, so he’d set one up whenever I needed to get an appointment for it. His frank talk didn’t influence me to run out and have sex right away, but about a year and a half later I asked him to make that appointment.
He set one up with a gynecologist at our regular family clinic. I remember the surprise the physician seemed to have when I told her I was there for birth control. She went ahead and did the routine checkup, which I had some discomfort during. She noticed, and with disgust on her face and condemnation in her voice she said, “Oh please, if you can handle a penis you can handle this.” Years later I realized how unprofessional this was, but at the time all I could register was shame. The sex positive talk my dad gave me was almost ruined by the feeling of being the “bad girl slut” this doctor had given me.
Eventually my refills ran out but I knew I couldn’t go back to see the same doctor, so this time I asked my dad to take me to Planned Parenthood from now on. I went and saw a physician there who talked to me about how while abstinence was the only 100% effective way to avoid pregnancy–yes, she talked about abstinence!– there were many forms of birth control I could try. She went through the side effects and how effective each one was without any judgment of me or my request. I didn’t feel ashamed when I walked out of there, I felt like a responsible young adult taking care to safeguard my future.
Well, not always responsible. About six months later I drank too much too fast at a party. I remember feeling like I was going to pass out before a friend picked me up and carried me to his bedroom. I lost consciousness for a while but when I came to my friend was raping me. It’s funny how I can use that term, rape, now that I’m older and it’s not a fresh wound. At the time I just wondered if I had somehow made him think I wanted it. I blamed myself for getting so drunk. Was my top too tight? Was I asking for it? Should I even be mad at him for it if it was my fault?
While trying to deconstruct my feelings and the event, I realized I should probably get an STD check. It’s not like I knew him well enough to know if he had anything. Once again I went to Planned Parenthood. They gave me the STD check up and after a few days I found out I was, thankfully, STD free but that I’d need to return in six months to redo the HIV test just to be sure. I didn’t mention the circumstances that brought me in. I wish I had though, because I later found out they could have referred me to a rape counselor or a survivors’ group to help me get through my feelings. Yes, PP helps rape survivors in several different ways.
Many years later I moved to a new area. I should have set up an appointment at Planned Parenthood to continue taking my birth control, but I didn’t. Shortly after I got here my close friend killed himself and birth control was the last thing on my mind. Maybe it’s weird that I was still having sex with my boyfriend; all I can say is I craved the comfort and intimacy that came with it and quite frankly I just needed to feel like I was alive after feeling like such a big part of me had died with my friend.
As can happen when a woman has unprotected sex while not taking birth control, I found myself pregnant. My boyfriend was going to school full time and I was a stay at home mom to three kids. We had no money and were on Medicaid and food stamps. I was still trying to piece myself together after my friend’s suicide. I had no business bringing another child into the world so I called Planned Parenthood for an abortion.
Yes, as everyone knows, Planned Parenthood provides abortions, but that abortion was my legally protected right whether PP existed or not. That has not changed with its defunding. Still, PP is not some predatory abortion factory that can’t wait to offer an abortion to every pregnant woman. In fact, they do offer referrals for help with prenatal care and in some locations actually provide it themselves.
Before I could even see the doctor I had to see an ultrasound tech who would tell me how far along I was to see if the medical abortion I had opted for (a pill that induces a miscarriage) was an option. I then had to sit through a video that explained exactly what would happen, the risks involved, and that it couldn’t be reversed once I took the pill. Then I met with a woman who asked me a bunch of questions making sure this was really what I wanted, if I was feeling pressured by someone else to get the abortion, and whether I was a victim of domestic violence because, guess what, they had people they could put me in touch with for that too. That’s right, they did everything they could to make sure this was really what I wanted, under my own volition, before I could even see the doctor. They didn’t pressure me to get the abortion. They were supportive of whatever choice I made and made me feel comfortable despite the fact that I was living through the toughest decision of my life. I regret that I was in the situation where I had to make that choice, but I do not regret my abortion.
So there it is, that is just some of the things that happen behind those closed doors. They help women who have been shamed by their doctors. They teach about not only birth control but abstinence too. They help rape and domestic violence victims. They help people detect and manage STDs. And they provide abortions, but only after knowing for sure that is absolutely what the woman wants. They are not some scary clinic preying on young women, they are a place where I felt safe and free of judgment. I didn’t feel alone in my circumstances. I felt supported. I felt cared for. That’s what Planned Parenthood provides–care.