The thing about this horror show called the Trump Administration is there are so many problems and controversies that are all equally important, and it’s hard to pick what to focus on at a particular time. There are a lot of things that deserve our attention, action, and anger. My advice is to start with something that has or will impact you in some way and go from there. Recently my focus has turned to the GOP’s attempt to defund Planned Parenthood.
Last month when I saw my primary care provider for a checkup, she asked me if I was on birth control or if I ever had a pelvic exam. The answer to both of these was no. Thanks to my conservative evangelical upbringing, I had put off getting essential reproductive health care because I was taught I didn’t need it until marriage (the assumed time of my first sexual experience). At 31 I consider myself pretty intelligent and self aware, but I still know very little about my own sexual health and what it takes to maintain it.
I went to a few close friends for advice, some of them were surprised that I’d never been to a gynecologist. “I’ve never had a well woman exam and I’m scared. Can I talk to you about it?” “Can you tell me about the birth control you use? I think I want to start using it.” I feel very fortunate to have friends who were willing to talk to me about their personal experiences and encourage me to make an appointment.
Unfortunately, I didn’t feel comfortable seeing the gynecologist who works in the same clinic as my primary care provider because he’s a man: I knew having a man do my first well woman exam would be extremely upsetting and I wanted to be as comfortable as possible. So I decided to turn to Planned Parenthood. It felt weird looking up Planned Parenthood’s website and researching the clinic I was going to; years after I dropped the pro-life rhetoric I was raised with and became pro-choice, there was still a nagging voice in the back of my head that I was going to an evil place to do something sinful.
I went to the clinic on a Monday afternoon and asked about receiving a well woman exam. I knew one of Planned Parenthood’s goals was helping low-income people, so I asked the woman at the check in counter about any financial assistance they provided. I was told that at my income level an exam would be $151, and they would not be able to provide any assistance because they don’t receive funding. I thanked her, and after sitting in the waiting room for a few minutes to regain my composure, I left.
I was furious. How many women are in my situation? I thought angrily I as I rode the bus to the mall. How many people are like me: poor and in need of reproductive care, and can’t obtain it at their local Planned Parenthood because of anti-choice bullshit? I knew there were ways to get financial assistance at other medical places, but that often requires a lot of paperwork and red tape, and even then there’s no guarantee that you’ll receive assistance. I knew defunding Planned Parenthood would have a significant effect on a lot of people, but experiencing it myself completely changed the narrative for me. It had become very personal.
I posted an angry rant on Facebook, lashing out at those who wanted to defund Planned Parenthood and holding them responsible for my inability to receive care and for putting people in danger. I went on Twitter and shouted into the internet about my lack of safe options and the effect it would have on my PTSD. I texted a friend to share how upset I was that I spent so much time preparing for this trip across town only to be turned away. “I’m pro-choice as fuck!” I declared when I finally made it home that evening. I was disappointed but determined to get the care I needed at a place I knew could provide me with excellent care.
Fortunately, this story has a happy ending. A friend on Twitter offered to help me pay for an exam, and I returned to the clinic two days later. Going to Planned Parenthood and having my first well woman exam was incredibly empowering; after spending so much time unlearning the harmful teachings I grew up with, I was finally taking my sexual health into my own hands. Everyone at the clinic was very kind and attentive. I was seen by a lovely nurse practitioner/midwife who told me how happy she was that I was having my first exam. The exam itself was very quick, probably less than 10 minutes. I felt very safe and comfortable, and was extremely pleased with the care I got. As I walked to the bus stop I proudly tweeted “I did it! I had my first gyno exam!”
Later that evening I signed up for Planned Parenthood’s mailing list and requested to be sent volunteer opportunities. I want everyone to have access to the same type of care I received at my local clinic, regardless of income. I envision a time where no one will be turned away from any Planned Parenthood location due to inability to pay. Poverty should not keep anyone from getting the healthcare they need. At a time when anti-choice voices are loud and strident, it’s extremely important that we support Planned Parenthood and ensure that everyone has access to safe reproductive care.