Katha Pollitt’s New York ‘Times’ op-ed was a rallying cry for women to share their abortion stories. This writer bravely takes up that mantle.
The first time I got pregnant I was 36.
I had been a very careful user of birth control, on the pill through college and into my 20s and early 30s. My pills came from Planned Parenthood, even when I had insurance. In my teens I had accompanied friends to their abortions at various Planned Parenthoods in Colorado where I live.
For a generation of us now in our late 30s and 40s, it was a sanctuary for our sexuality, a place where we went when we needed birth control, when we thought we might have a UTI or maybe had contracted a sexually transmitted disease like chlamydia or HPV and knew we should have used a condom.
We knew we wouldn’t be judged. More important, we would be educated, supported, and sent on our way, feeling empowered to take care of ourselves, while knowing there was a place—Planned Parenthood—that had our backs.
As young women who sought help there, we had to walk past a gauntlet of protesters in the parking lot, some who carried mason jars with what looked like cloudy water, but that they labeled “Your baby.”
Men who looked as old as my grandfather spit out their disapproval: “Do you girls know that you are disobeying God?”
Most of the time, we weren’t even there for abortions. We went for our annual physicals, because even if some of us were lucky enough to have a job after college at 21 or 22, we weren’t always able to get positions offering insurance. And Planned Parenthood made the health care affordable to the uninsured: $100 back then.
And it was comforting to know that even the $25 you could afford to send to Planned Parenthood in response to their mailings in the pre–social media 1980s and early ’90s was going to help other women like you.
Years later, in 2003, when I was 36, I went to Planned Parenthood and had an abortion. I had been stunned by the pregnancy, though I shouldn’t have been. I was waiting to get an IUD and thought I was too old to get pregnant.
My boyfriend and I didn’t want to be parents, at least not then, and likely not together. He was ten years younger than me.
The doctor who performed my abortion and the Planned Parenthood staff made me feel like what I was doing what was right for me.
It might not be everyone’s decision, but it was mine.
Nine years later, waiting a couple of months after the removal of my first IUD to get my second, my gynecologist jokingly said: “I know you think you’re so old, but I don’t want to see you back here next month pregnant, OK? I see more women your age who get pregnant than ones who are 15 or 16.”
A little over a month later, I was back. At almost 45, I was pregnant again.
My gynecologist, a former Marine now retired, is also an un-P.C. straight-talker whom you either love or hate.
I love him for his wisdom and humor, but also because he was the first physician to perform abortions in Boulder County, Colorado, after Roe v. Wade was passed.
But when I told him my news he just shook his head and closed his eyes. I was sitting on the examination table in a paper gown; he was in a chair sprawled out in front of me.
“I’m guessing you’re not going to go forward with this, right?” he asked. “I don’t think you’re with the most stable guy. And, if you do, it’s a high-risk pregnancy because of your age.
“But Jill, do you really want to have a child? That’s the question. And you decide.”
“Whatever you do, it’s going to be the right thing,” he said, standing up and giving me a hug. I cried harder. I knew I didn’t want a child, and this time, it felt like I was giving up on a part of life I knew then I would never know.
I would never be a mother.
He knew about my then-boyfriend, who was in an outlaw biker club, but nonetheless was sending me daily texts at work that said, “I think we should have the child.” And then, “I will support you in anything you decide.”
About a month later, we were at a Planned Parenthood in Denver, because my doctor, semi-retired, no longer performed abortions.
By that time, there was a bubble law that prohibited protesters from following us from the parking lot into the building.
There was only one man with a sign that read the usual “You’re Killing Your Unborn Child,” which was still upsetting. But we met the Planned Parenthood staffer at the door and she escorted us through what looked like bulletproof glass and locked two heavy doors behind her.
Planned Parenthood, this place that supported us through our youth and into our adulthood—who supports us, our children, sisters, friends, women across the country from all walks of life—is in grave danger of losing its federal funding.
How can this be? The one place that young women (and men) can depend on for fact-based and unbiased support, for help in making life-altering decisions no matter what those might be, is under attack.
What can we, as citizens do?
As Katha Pollitt says in her Op-Ed in the New York Times, we can speak out. We can tell our stories, we can strengthen a grass-roots movement further and help it gain momentum by speaking out on how Planned Parenthood has made a positive difference in our lives.
This won’t be for everyone, because there is a lot of shame and silence around abortion.
We don’t want to be judged. But Planned Parenthood never judged us. Don’t we owe them something in return?
It’s not just about the stories. Journalism is also about who is telling them.
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