I drove home yesterday after a long day on my feet caring for a variety of patients with cancer. The last patient of the day is 23 and was diagnosed with a virulent form of cervical cancer related to a Human Pappilloma Virus (HPV) infection just six weeks ago. She was initially diagnosed by her nurse practitioner at a Planned Parenthood and came to my hospital for surgery and chemotherapy. She has a more than 75% chance of survival and although she will never bear children of her own, she will live to adopt, be an aunt, finish college, get married and get on with her life. Her journey to my chemo chair was heavy on my mind as I listened to All Things Considered on NPR and heard the story I have linked to below.
Then this morning I saw on CNN that the courts have said Indiana can restrict funding to Planned Parenthood so I guess that makes it official. If you are poor and uninsured in Indiana, you can also plan on not having access to contraception, an affordable pap smear or a mammogram. Good times.
Every few months, and certainly every election cycle, the far right anti abortion advocates sprout up like weeds and begin to spew half truths and out right falsehoods about Planned Parenthood. Elected officials who want to remain elected then begin their difficult tap dance of being "pro woman, but not pro choice." and in the end once again, it is the poor and uninsured that bear the burden of electoral politics. Planned Parenthood is not an abortion factory. In fact only 12% of all people served by Planned Parenthood in the last 12 months sought an abortion. Of all the health care related services provided by Planned Parenthood only 3% are related to abortion, and those services are not federally funded.
That is in sharp contrast to the estimated 600,000 unplanned pregnancies prevented by the contraception provided by Planned Parenthood. In fact with their educational efforts, clinics, and outreach in developing countries Planned Parenthood serves over 5 million people annually. No, they are not all teenagers trying to get condoms, in fact, only about 20% of Planned Parenthood's clients are less than age 20.
Do not misunderstand me, I do not believe 13 year old's should be able to have an abortion on a street corner or have access to condoms in the lunchroom-"juice box or prophylactic?" But I do think it is time to stop making the entire reproductive health conversation about abortion. Frankly, if we have the conversation like reasonable adults, abortion will be the smallest part of the equation when all is said and done.
We can't afford to demonize an entire organization for providing services that are LEGAL. I don't like abortion, and I would prefer no one ever needed one. But I live here, in reality, where women are raped by family members, diagnosed with cancer during their first trimester, and discover Tay Sachs in their genetic stew after becoming pregnant. Sometimes, abortion is a valid choice and it is a LEGAL choice.
I have two biological children, the first was the result of a lot of love, and a failure of our contraceptives. I do not regret him for a moment-but when I became pregnant I was 28, in a loving relationship, employed, insured, and healthy. I had options that many women can't even imagine. I am now parenting that child through the teenage years and having conversations that make my insides squirm.
But again, I am having those conversation now, and offering information now, so that I do not have to be a shoulder to cry on later. My sons will both have the Gardasil vaccine, not because I want them to go out and bed every woman in the county, but because I do not want them or the partner they do eventually have a physical, sexual relationship with to be at risk for HPV.
What makes me angriest is that when "pro-life" organizations rally against Planned Parenthood they are not rallying for the lives of women-they are rallying for the fetuses women could potentially carry, not the living human beings seeking health care. Last year 1 million women got their pap smears at a Planned Parenthood. The bulk paid on a sliding scale and would not have gone to another doctor due to cost. These women deserve to continue getting care that is focused on their needs and those of their families.
Pro life should mean more than anti abortion. Being pro life should mean advocating for safe health care for people in all stages of life. Instead of having the same arguments over funding and Planned Parenthood elected officials should focus on the lives of their constituents, and making it possible for them to have healthy productive lives that fulfill the American dream.