To The Man With A Megaphone Who Preached At Me As I Entered Planned Parenthood

I understand that some people like you are opposed to abortion, and I encourage you not to have one.

I would like to start by saying that I admire your passion.

I can see that you have strong feelings about issues involving women’s reproductive health, so in some ways you and I share some common ground. However, I think you are horribly misguided in both your thoughts and actions, and I would like to offer some additional information that I think would be helpful for you to know.

First, I would like to tell you a little about myself.

I am a physician. I have health insurance and am privileged to be able to go to any women’s health clinic to receive my health care. I have never been pregnant or had an abortion.

For years I have chosen to go to Planned Parenthood for my annual exams because I value the compassionate, nonjudgmental care they provide for vulnerable women who do not have the privilege and options that I do, and who are facing stigma and criticism from people like yourself. I walk through that door with my head held high every time, including today, just like every woman should be able to do when she is seeking health care.

During my annual exams, I receive routine breast and cervical cancer screenings and am also prescribed birth control that lowers my risk of ovarian cancer. This is very important to me, as my mother nearly died from stage 4 ovarian cancer two years ago.

I have been there as both physician and friend to women who have made the decision to undergo an abortion. It is a deeply personal decision that affects every aspect of a woman’s life.

One of the hardest conversations I had during my medical training was with a woman to whom I had just given the results of a positive pregnancy test. Her oral contraceptive pills had failed, which is possible even with perfect use. She was in her late 30s, an age at which pregnancy comes with higher risks, as well as married and a mother of three children, and she was already overwhelmed between her job and caring for her family.

Living in the country with the most expensive health care system in the world, you may have forgotten that women still die during pregnancy and childbirth.

I felt powerless as she sobbed in the exam room when I told her the news. I encouraged her to consider her options, but she was resolute ― her husband would not agree to an abortion. I offered her some resources, and she declined. I never saw her again, but I think about her from time to time and wonder what I could have done differently to be a better source of support for her.

In contrast, going with my teenage friend for an abortion consultation was not the dreadful experience you might expect. She had already spoken with the people she trusted most to help her consider the impact a pregnancy would have on her as a teen and how it might hinder her ability to pursue higher education, a job and financial stability. 

Walking into Planned Parenthood, while nerve-wracking, still came with a sense of relief. When I looked at my young friend, I saw an empowered woman who was unafraid to do what she thought was best, despite her religious background in which abortion was frowned upon. She wanted the choice to be her own ― not what others told her it should be, and she made a difficult decision in order to give both herself and her future family a chance at a better life.

Because she was still early in her first trimester, the process to end the pregnancy was both simple and safe. She was given a medication to take at home and later went in for a follow-up visit to ensure that no complications had occurred.

For many women, choosing to proceed with a pregnancy is the right choice and even an easy one. But for many others, it is not. In any case, it is not a decision to take lightly.

Living in the country with the most expensive health care system in the world, you may have forgotten that women still die during pregnancy and childbirth. In fact, the United States has one of the highest maternal mortality rates among developed countries, according to the World Health Organization. Some Catholic hospitals here have come under fire for failing to provide abortions even in situations where the woman’s life is at risk, and in some cases this inaction can result in death.

This is an area in which racial disparities can be deadly, as black women are significantly more likely to die of pregnancy-related complications than women of other races are.

I understand that some people like you are opposed to abortion, and I encourage you not to have one.

The last thing a pregnant woman considering an abortion needs is to face judgment and impassioned disinformation. This is a conversation between her, her family, and her health care provider.

I understand that some people like you are opposed to abortion, and I encourage you not to have one. I also encourage you to research reputable medical sources for information about abortion rather than relying on rhetoric that is distorted and emotive. Abortion is not infanticide ― it is a legal medical procedure to end an early unwanted pregnancy.

Regardless, if you must campaign against it, then do so at the policy level and not in the faces of women ― like me, my friend and my patient ― who are seeking medical care. 

I have some suggestions for how you can help reduce the number of abortions. Namely, I recommend against standing outside of Planned Parenthood harassing women who are trying to receive health care, many of whom are trying to access birth control to prevent pregnancy in the first place.

If you truly care about the lives of children, why don’t you instead spend time campaigning for politicians who support the expansion of social services, so that children aren’t born into a life of poverty?

Why don’t you volunteer at a women and children’s shelter, so you can learn how control over women’s reproduction is often a key component of domestic abuse?

Why don’t you support improved access to birth control, so that women can plan when they are physically, mentally and financially ready to undertake the intense commitment of raising a child? 

Lastly, I was saddened to see a young boy standing out there on the corner with you. I wonder if he is your son. I hope that he finds someone in his life who will teach him that the example you set today is not an acceptable way to treat women.