It was 1985. I was 16 years old and 8 weeks pregnant. I was being raised by my very devout grandmother who hadn't
explained sex to me, and my conversations with my mother and aunt had not been
explicit. So when I realized I was pregnant, I felt scared, alone and helpless.
I don't recall how I was directed to Planned Parenthood, but somehow I found a
clinic where I was supported through terminating a pregnancy, receiving
counseling and getting birth control to prevent future pregnancies. I did all
of this without the knowledge or support of any adult I knew.
I'll never forget the
sound of Annie Lennox's voice singing, "Would I Lie to You?" as I faded into a
deep sleep before the procedure. I returned home and climbed into bed, only to
be awakened by my aunt yelling that my school had called to inform her that I hadn't
shown up today. What was I doing in bed?
What is currently happening in our nation regarding Planned
Parenthood is sad, and it angers me deeply. The thought that women with few or
no financial resources will be without the tools to make health plans and will not have access to medical care and advice is simply classist, sexist and racist. To
allow an elected majority of white men defund services that they think their daughters and
wives will never need speaks to the inherent dysfunction in our political
Had I not had access to Planned Parenthood, I would have had a child to care for and the cycle of poverty would have continued.
Here's what's difficult for me to accept: Many Americans
seem to be resistant to government being involved with women's health care
needs. We witnessed this with the objections to the Affordable Care Act and complaints
that it required coverage of health care services that were out of alignment
with some business owners' religious beliefs.
This is a delicate conversation,
because while it is deeply personal for a young woman or girl, like I was
several decades ago, it also impacts our society in profound and complex ways.
My grandmother never
made more than $17,000 annually. My mother was 17 when she gave birth to
me and my father was in prison. As awful as abortion can be, it was the best
thing for me. Not having a child as a teenager allowed me to continue my
education, graduate from a recognized university, get a secondary degree and
plan a family when I was capable and ready to do so.
Had I not had access to
Planned Parenthood, I would have had a child to care for and the cycle of poverty would have continued. I expect I would have
needed to go on welfare and I may have struggled to complete my high school
degree. Truthfully, I just didn't have the family structure and support to have
gotten where I am now if I'd had a child at 16.
For many years after my abortion I used Planned Parenthood for wellness
exams and other health care needs. Some of the best medical care I've
gotten came from Planned Parenthood.
While our leaders are working to defund an organization
dedicated to the care of women by using abortion as their alleged "target," the fact is that Planned
Parenthood does not offer abortion services through government funding. And unlike when I was pregnant in 1985, women now have access to more resources and
tools outside of Planned Parenthood to prevent unwanted pregnancies like the Plan B pill, which is an over-the-counter drug that can be taken
immediately after having unprotected sex. Moreover, pregnancy rates, including those of teen girls, are down
significantly according to ABCNews.
So why defund Planned Parenthood and access to safe and reliable health care for women and families?
It's widely recognized that Planned Parenthood's clients are often low-income
women and are often people of color. These are not our society's most powerful
people; they frequently don't have public voices, a platform and/or the
resources to advocate effectively for their needs.
For the most part, the
effort to thwart the defunding of the organization will be made by people who
have compassion, and who realize we are all connected and need one another—people
like Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, who donated 18 million Facebook shares to an
organization that works with community groups, including Planned Parenthood,
and people like you and me, who may have long ago benefited from Planned
Parenthood before we had financial success.
I will not forget how terrified I was each morning as I
worked to hide my pregnancy; morning sickness is not an easy thing to disguise. And I have no regrets about the choice I made. I did
the best I could at the time.
However, today we can do better. We can provide
information and services to young girls and women; every woman deserves access to
health care and to map out a full, deliberate life for herself. We need to be able to make choices about having children that empowers women, our society and the
generations that follow.