As a Late Boomer I’m telling my story.
This post is cross-posted from my blog, Build Peace, which is participating in a blog carnival today organized by two Hoosier-based blogs, What Tami Said and Shakesville in support of Planned Parenthood which, as you know, is under siege from Right Wing extremists. Check out the Blog Carnival here.
My story of interaction with Planned Parenthood is not all that special. Every woman’s life story is unique. Planned Parenthood allows women to have unique, self-guided lives. That is a very good thing.
I live in a city in Arizona where Margaret Sanger spent much of the later part of her life. I grew up a few miles from a country town in Indiana where good but poor girls died from septicemia or blood loss from botched back alley abortions and wealthy girls traveled to “see an Auntie” who lived somewhere that a skilled physician performed abortions for a hefty fee and silence in a clean medical office after hours. It was a very big deal. I grew up hearing my Mom’s stories of good women who died young from back alley abortions. Her take. Nasty business, but sometime necessary, and it should be legal. Apparently at least one of her friends died because of lack of access to medical care and the butchery of an illegal abortion.
“The pill” was developed around the time I was born, with persistence it could be obtained in the 1960s when I was a child, and by the time I was a teenager it was widely prescribed to mature adult women, but teenagers needed to have their parents permission and that was a rarity. I knew one girl who had a mother who actually helped her get on the pill.
It was not easy to get access to the services Planned Parenthood now offers. The Fort Wayne branch, founded in 1977, did not exist the first time I went to a women’s clinic in Fort Wayne. The county of my official residence at that time had no dedicated women’s services. You had to lie to say you lived in Allen County and give the address of a friend or relative if you wanted to get birth control. If you did not want to take your chances and go to a male physician who might or might not lecture you, refuse to help you, or who simply was so old school that he (physicians back then seemed to all be male) didn’t understand the basics of the types and risks of different contraceptive options.
Then I began to attend Purdue University and had some not so good experiences with the campus Medical Center, again largely because at that time you did not know what type of person the physician you might see was and whether you would get a lecture, good information, or help. That is when I began to use Planned Parenthood for annual check-ups. The Lafayette branch opened in 1975.
For the next ten years all my annual check ups were done there. I paid the highest price on the sliding scale after I was out of college and continued to use PP because I felt it was important to support the only facility within an hour and a half drive where women without support systems could turn for information about contraception, annual check ups, and referrals to more specialized services. I remember interns rotating through the clinic getting experience that was not easy to arrange in Indiana back then.
I am fortunate to have faced no unwanted pregnancies and to have had no abortions. Until I was with my husband (in my thirties) I never faced an unplanned pregnancy. In my twenties when I was unmarried and living with a man with whom I knew I did not want to have children, I was the birth control Goddess. It was a bad situation and I didn’t realize the gravity of it until I tried to leave him and experienced “spousal” rape, stalking, and threats of violence. I could not safely use the pill but had a couple different models of IUD, and used a diaphragm religiously. I had made the decision that if I became pregnant I would immediately go to Planned Parenthood and seek a referral for terminating the pregnancy. I now understand that this determination to never have a child with this guy signaled the problems in the relationship long before I consciously admitted them to myself. Prevention, prevention, prevention was also my mantra because growing up as an unwanted and unplanned child myself, I swore I would never expose a child to the resentment I had experienced because I was not wanted. I am still haunted by the memory of my mother, when I was no more than 9, when in an angry outburst she voiced, with utter contempt of having to deal with a preteen, that she had not planned for nor wanted me to be. It stays with me to this day.
My daughter was unplanned but dearly wanted and born in another state than Indiana. I will never tell another woman what she should do in a given situation. I just want all the options within our current human tool kit to be available to that woman. I dearly and passionately want every child born to be a wanted and loved child. That is the bottom line for me. I will never forget stopping at a Planned Parenthood booth during a street fair when I was very preggers just about 3 weeks before I had my daughter to sign a petition to keep abortion safe and legal and the wonderment that even the women working the booth showed that a pregnant woman would support abortion. It was then that I realized that I would be fighting this fight to keep all our options open for the rest of my life because ingrained attitudes and stereotypes do not go away easily or in one generation.
I ventured to Washington, D.C. in April of 2004 to participate in the March for Women’s Lives. That was one of the largest marches, some say the largest ever marches on D.C. The official count was 1.4 million in attendance. I volunteered to help direct people arriving in 1000 buses that parked at RFK Stadium to transportation to the National Mall. It was amazing. I will never forget the school bus filled with Junior High girls from Pennsylvania, a Quaker School I believe, that had raised funds to attend. After the bus parking, I “rushed” to the mall as fast as the packed metro would take me. I marched with Arizona Planned Parenthood. I wanted to march with my friends in CODEPINK, but I felt it was far more important to show that even “conservative” states such as AZ have large numbers of people willing to spend time, money, and effort to be a part of a national statement by women, and men, about our commitment to the preservation of women as agents of control over their own lives.
My hope is that one day Planned Parenthood will no longer be the needed, vital service it is today. Good top notch healthcare needs to be available to everyone. Someday it will be. Perhaps then we will stop segregating, and thus stigmatizing health care for women, and we will be able to offer all services under the same roof as immunizations, back to school check ups, and routine visits with your physician, and with that all surgical procedures will then done in multi-specialty clinics or hospitals without the stigma of separation of services, and the denial of privacy from which specialized clinics suffer and to which their clients are unconstitutionally subjected.