I stand with Planned Parenthood because I’ve never had to use their services. I’m so moved by the many personal accounts from women who have depended on them on Twitter through Amanda Marcotte’s #thanksPPFA campaign as well as blog posts and video posts. But I don’t have a story like that. I’ve never once had to enter its doors as anything but a volunteer. And for that I am forever grateful.
I grew up in a rural area on the Eastern end of Long Island. Not much is out there — we had to drive a half hour to get to the closest chain restaurant, a McDonalds. But I remember exactly where the Planned Parenthood was, only about a 10 minute drive. I had to take a friend there who was more sexually active (and matured far faster than me) and wanted to get birth control to protect herself without letting her strict mom in on her personal life. We were stupid teenagers in so many ways — sometimes I marvel that no one got into a car accident, considering how fast we drove on dark backroads — but Planned Parenthood was there and helped us make safe decisions like taking birth control and using condoms. And while I never used its services (my mom practically mandated I get on the pill when I reached 17), I always knew it was there if I needed it. It was like a guiding light of sexual health and responsibility.
I’ve also been lucky to grow up in an area where Planned Parenthood has made inroads in sex education. I’ve watched their lobbying efforts in New York City, where I now live, and am grateful that they work so hard to make sure the city’s students are educated accurately about their bodies. I got an accurate education about mine in both middle school and high school, and while I squirmed in those classes at the time (watching a baby comes out of a woman’s vagina was not a highlight of my high school experience), I know that they inform the choices I continue to make to be healthy in my sexuality.
One of the most moving personal accounts I’ve read was from Sady Doyle, who described growing up in an environment where she was not encouraged to take care of her sexual health and had a hard time even finding a Planned Parenthood. One of the times she needed Plan B she went to the emergency room and was hit with sky-high insurance bills. The less Planned Parenthood offices available to young women, the less visible encouragement there is to stay healthy and the less information there is on how to do that. Planned Parenthood does more than provide contraception, preventative care and abortions (all vital) — it fosters an environment of conversation around and acceptance of female sexuality that makes it easier to make the right choices.
I take the attacks on Planned Parenthood — and not just the attempt to defund it — extremely personally. When I read that South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa all drafted legislation that could lead to justifiable homicide defenses for vigilantes who kill abortion providers, I know who they’re targeting. And I also feel targeted. Virginia just moved to regulate abortion clinics as hospitals, a huge roadblock in providing that care. But Planned Parenthood works tirelessly to continue to provide the (safe, legal, and varied) services that women depend on them for. South Dakota has essentially barred abortion practitioners from the state, so Planned Parenthood flies a doctor in once a week to see patients. That can’t be a cost effective service, but it’s clearly a necessary one.
Defunding Planned Parenthood is only one prong in the current all-out assault on the institution and on women’s right to control their own bodies. I stand with them and with all the women who rely on them. As Republicans and conservatives try to chip away at their services, there will only be more demand for what they do. And more girls will grow up in an environment that doesn’t give them the information and tools they need to stay healthy.