My first encounter with Planned Parenthood was in 1978, when I was a college freshman in St. Louis. Looking back, it seems like such an innocent time. I'd never talked to my mother about birth control, never discussed such things with a doctor. My roommate suggested I go to Planned Parenthood, conveniently located just a city bus ride away. I recall three things from that long-ago visit: a kindly nurse who explained that a tipped uterus would not interfere with my dream of someday conceiving a child, a sliding fee scale that made the visit affordable, and the pills that allowed me to let go of my fear of becoming pregnant.
Twelve years later, I went to work for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. I was a full-time communications consultant to the national office, traveling the country to provide strategy, trainings and help in winning legislative threats to reproductive health for Planned Parenthood affiliates. It was a heady time. I felt that I was doing important work. And I was lucky enough to spend time with Planned Parenthood affiliate staff and patients. I visited a clinic in Ohio on vasectomy night, overwhelmed by the waiting room crowded with nervous-looking men. I met a woman who had been forced to have an abortion when a sonogram showed that her fetus had no heartbeat, though she was still grieving, and who credited Planned Parenthood with helping her through the awful process. I met women who received contraceptives and cancer screenings and prenatal care at Planned Parenthood in rural communities where any choices were few. I met staff who received hostile anonymous phone calls while they were bathing their children at night -- accused of "killing babies." For four years, I was so proud to say I worked for Planned Parenthood and, as a woman in her reproductive years, to know that the organization would be there for me.
Time passed quickly, as we know it does. I became pregnant with a dearly wanted baby while working for Planned Parenthood and still recall how joyous everyone was for me as my belly grew. They set up a home office so I could work from home while juggling the responsibilities of raising my beautiful baby while still working. When I left Planned Parenthood, my daughter was three and had already marched in two pro-choice demonstrations.
So now I am stunned to read the comments of members of Congress who seek to defund the organization that provides so much care to so many of America's men and women. Congressman Mike Pence is a leader of this crusade, joined by Virginia's Eric Cantor. They seem to be under the misguided notion that Planned Parenthood is an abortion provider. Perhaps they need to actually visit the clinics to see the huge range of health care Planned Parenthood clinics provide. It would be as unfair to call a grocery store a "fruit vendor" as it is to say Planned Parenthood is an abortion provider. Both characterizations are myopic and ignore the whole in favor of a single part.
I, like many Americans, wonder what the true objective is in the House legislation. If it is to end abortions, do they really believe defunding Planned Parenthood will achieve that? If it is to promote life, will this bill succeed? And the larger question is what Pence and Cantor are afraid of. Clearly, they don't trust women.
My greatest fear is for my daughter, now 18-years-old. I had assumed so many years ago that she might someday seek out Planned Parenthood as her mother did. And I have been confident that she would be treated with respect and compassion as I was.
I urge men with unresolved feelings about women to stay out of the health care decisions we make. In turn, I won't seek to get Viagra removed from their health coverage. Pence and Cantor would do well to follow the lead of anti-abortion Congressman Stephen Lynch who is quoted as saying, ""This is about the ability of Planned Parenthood to conduct women's health care, to offer services that are deeply needed in many communities where no other source of health care is available... I don't have many friends in the Planned Parenthood community. They don't support me. I am pro-life. But I respect the good work that they do," he said. Good for you, Congressman Lynch!
This would be a much richer nation if we respect more and impose less.