[TW for abortion, TMI warning for menstrual and hormonal issues]
My visit to Planned Parenthood (in Portland, Oregon) is not an inspirational story. When I could no longer buy the cheap pills offered by my university’s health center, I went off birth control for about six months. I decided to go back on because of menstrual misery, and made an appointment for the 5th day of a 10 day trip back to the United States.
The nurse practitioner I saw was, as are many others in the health profession unaffiliated with Planned Parenthood, a douchebag. I wanted hormonal birth control, but she attempted to railroad me into agreeing to get a hormonal IUD. When I stopped her and attempted to bring the conversation back to what I really wanted, she brought it up again, that I was a “great candidate,” whatever that means, and she could get me in right away, and why would I choose the pill instead? It took a terse, no nonsense, “I am not making this decision in the five days before I leave the country for a year” before she would consider giving me the type of birth control that I asked for. She put me on Ortho Novum, which has proven to be a finicky nightmare of breakthrough bleeding, mood swings, fatigue, and inability to skip periods, despite the NP’s nearly insultingly condescending “Of course!” when I asked if it would work. All in all, I had the garden variety crappy experience you can have at any clinic in any part of the world.
That’s doesn’t sound very pro-Planned Parenthood, does it? Planned Parenthood is not a perfect, infallible ley-line nexus of Hardcore Awesome. It is an organization run by and staffed with human beings, some of whom are douchebags and some of whom are not. It provides a wide array of services utilized by human beings, some of whom are douchebags and some of whom are not. The argument is not about whether Planned Parenthood or the people who go there are perfect. The argument is about whether or not Planned Parenthood deserves funding to continue to provide services to those who can least afford them.
At the beginning of my visit, as do all visitors, I filled out a standard form. My friend urged me to list my occupation as a student and my income as zero, to take advantage of the sliding pay scale. I hesitated, and, finally, wrote my real job title and my best guess of my true income in U.S. dollars. When the visit was over, my total for 14 months of birth control was a little shocking to me – but I didn’t blink. I could afford to pay and I would, because a lot of people less fortunate than me would need those dollars to get all kinds of healthcare, and maybe someday I’d be back and unemployed and need them too. I funded Planned Parenthood, and I think we all should.
Planned Parenthood needs to be there for those people, and possibly even for me in the future. It needs to be able to provide services at the lowest possible cost to those most in need when they most need it – no waiting to get health insurance, no putting off vital health checks or STD testing or abortions or pregnancy testing or birth control or even just getting some free condoms – not because the supposed best country in the world can’t be bothered to take care of its citizens – all of its citizens.
When one of my best friends was beginning to work as a sex worker and was flat broke? Planned Parenthood gave zie free condoms, birth control, and STD screenings. When my friend was raped by her boyfriend and got pregnant with no money and couldn’t tell her parents? Planned Parenthood gave her a safe abortion as early as possible in the pregnancy. When my friend lost her job due to “restructuring”? Planned Parenthood moved her down the pay scale and kept giving her decent quality health care that she could afford.
I studied abroad for a year during university in the Middle East. My American roommate got pregnant by her local boyfriend because both of them were too ashamed to go into a pharmacy and buy condoms or birth control. After she found out, we spent many days talking. She decided not to keep the baby. Her boyfriend, thank the stars, supported her decision, and then the real logistics began. Should she fly home for an abortion? Should she fly to the closest country with legal abortion clinics? Should she meet her mom in Europe, halfway? Should she get a local, illegal abortion?
She opted to visit a doctor there. It took a while for her boyfriend to track down a doctor who provided black market abortions. She described the room as “sketchy” but was given the medication and instructions for a self-administered medical abortion. The clinic only gave her one of the two medicines that are usually given in most Western abortion clinics, because it is the only one they could get their hands on in that country. After days of cramping and pain and bleeding, they went back to the doctor. Although the fetus was dead, it wasn’t passing out naturally. She needed a D&C anyway, and got it. The procedures combined were expensive, due in large part to the risk to the physician if zie should be caught. She was lucky that her boyfriend made a decent paycheck and offered to cover the cost for her. That is not a typical situation for women in that country.
How much easier would this emotionally and physically taxing ordeal have been if she had had a Planned Parenthood to go to? A place where she could have, judgement free, gotten the condoms and birth control she needed to avoid pregnancy in the first place? A place she did not have to sneak into for fear of being jailed? A place that could base its prices on the cost of the procedure, and not on the risks of getting caught or the cost of bribes to the police? She would still have had a rough time – abortion, for her, was not an easy decision. But it would have been easier. And the black market abortion clinics in that country clearly demonstrate that outlawing abortions will not make them disappear – just put them out of the price ranges of the people who need them the most, and provide substandard care to the rest.
I’m not asking you to support Planned Parenthood because it’s perfect. I am asking you to support Planned Parenthood because it is a duty of all citizens of conscience in our vast country to care for those who need our help, and to not impose our own moral beliefs upon the decisions made between a person and hir physician, much less to use the few cases of those decisions to deny thousands of people the unrelated medical care they need.
Read the rest of the blog carnival posts here