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If there is an organization sure to get people in a tizzy, it is Planned Parenthood, the medical provider that for more than 90 years has delivered reproductive health care to millions. Say those two words together in a group of people, and you can feel the upsurge of tension. And that’s a real shame.
Before I get too far, I’d like to disclose a few things: I’m 32 years old. I’m politically conservative. I’m married. I have an above-average income and quality health insurance. As such, I probably wouldn’t be cast for a Planned Parenthood commercial, and the organization was never exactly on my list of top-five health-care providers. That is, until two years ago.
I’ll spare you the details, but my husband and I had a birth-control malfunction one night after one too many glasses of wine. The next morning I realized the unfortunate timing of our misstep. So I did what any woman would do: I freaked out. I started by calling my gynecologist. Surely she’d have a sample packet of emergency contraceptive lying around.
I was wrong. She told me to call around to local pharmacies for the so-called morning-after pill. But she warned me that, because of some drugstore policies and other personal biases, it might be difficult to find. I called at least eight pharmacies around town; not one was carrying it. I sat on my bedroom floor, astonished that—in America!—I couldn’t access the health care I needed, especially medication that is more effective the quicker you take it.
I’d nearly decided to leave the situation to fate when I thought of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM). I was hesitant: My mental image was of a poorly lit, crowded clinic with substandard equipment and subpar health-care professionals to match.
As I pulled up to the unassuming clinic on 14th Avenue, I realized that not only was I skeptical, but I was also embarrassed. This is what being irresponsible gets you, I chided myself. I drew a deep breath, opened the door, and walked into a bright waiting room with four other patients. The smiling nurse at the front desk asked how she could help me. I told her about my situation in the least shameful voice I could muster. “Please don’t worry,” she said. “Happens all the time. The packet costs $38. Do you want to buy two so you can have one available at home?” I hadn’t realized how panicked I was until the relief hit. I wanted to hug the nurse; instead I paid for the medication and added a $15 donation.
It’s been more than two years since that anxious morning, and I’m still grateful to PPRM. Since then, I’ve also been more aware of the attacks Planned Parenthood endures. The most recent assault aimed to rob Planned Parenthood of its federal funding because it provides abortions (although no federal money goes toward those services). The truth is, only three percent of Planned Parenthood’s services relate to abortion. Ninety-seven percent of its services are preventive—annual exams, pregnancy tests, prenatal care, birth control, and emergency contraceptives. This, to me, suggests that one’s stance on abortion should factor into a person’s opinion about Planned Parenthood in only the smallest way. After all, the overwhelming majority of its services go to Americans who don’t have easy access to health care. And some of it goes to Americans like me—people who never knew they needed Planned Parenthood until they really needed Planned Parenthood.
Which brings me back to the notion of shame. It’s a shame that people tense up about these issues. It’s a shame that I felt, even for a minute, that I should be ashamed of myself. And it’s a shame that so many are so quick to think Planned Parenthood is only about abortion.