Last August, when Planned Parenthood was steeped in controversy over supposed fetal tissue sales, I posted a pink-tinted “frame” around my Facebook profile photo, an act of support for and solidarity with Planned Parenthood. It featured the hashtag #StandwithPP and only got eight likes. I suspect many people didn’t know what it meant, weren’t aware of the “controversy” surrounding the organization, and/or didn’t care. Still, for me, “hiding behind” that rose-colored frame seemed safer than making an actual statement of support. That felt too controversial.
It’s not like I make a practice of avoiding controversy, necessarily, though it is certainly true that I dislike conflict, and sometimes it follows conversations about Planned Parenthood and a “woman’s choice.” Where the topic of abortion is concerned, I have strong feelings. I don’t shy away from sharing and even exploring these feelings in private conversations, but “outing” myself in social media felt like…opening myself up to public scrutiny. It was like “speaking my truth” would destine me for branding with a scarlet letter “A” not unlike Hester Prynne’s.
While I smiled safely behind pink-tinting, an op-ed piece from the New York Times appeared in my newsfeed entitled “How to Really Defend Planned Parenthood.” It featured a sketch of a homely, dare-I-say manly-looking woman wearing a Pro-Choice shirt and hollering into a tiny megaphone. She was ugly, and, honestly, I didn’t want to look like her…but I read the article that followed because I needed to know what to do, how to step out from behind my pink curtain.
The author of the piece, Katha Pollitt, explored reasons why the so-called Pro-Choice Movement always finds itself on the defensive – most striking to me, because pro-choice people are way too quiet.
Uh oh. Guilty as charged.
The truth about Planned Parenthood is this: The majority of reproductive care the organization provides is preventive, intended to help “prevent unintended pregnancies through contraception; reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections through testing and treatment; and screen for cervical and other cancers.” Opponents would have you believe it’s all about abortion. It’s not. In fact, only three percent of all PP health services are abortion services. Three percent. And, next to none of those services are funded by federal dollars. (Two programs – Title X and Medicaid – help finance Planned Parenthood. Title X allows no federal funds to be used for abortions. Medicaid provides extremely limited funding for abortion services – and even then only in cases of rape or incest and when abortion is necessary to protect the life of a mother.)
Still, supporting PP equates to taking a pro-choice stance since access to safe and legal abortion is a component of women’s reproductive healthcare – and, as such, is a procedure I “support.” That’s what I’m “coming out” about here – my support for PP and for abortion itself.
My truth, simply stated, is this: I believe that women should individually and solely control their reproductive destinies [with input from and support of their partners if they so choose]. I believe that children deserve to come into the world fully-desired. And I believe that American society at large benefits from the availability of safe and legal abortions.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, about half of women will experience an unplanned pregnancy by the age of 45. One in three women will have an abortion.
One in three. That’s a lot of women. A lot of quiet women, Pollitt points out.
I’ve only been in one setting in which women touted previous abortions. It was a progressive event of some sort, maybe a war protest (I can’t even recall for sure), but I remember being taken aback by the cheers one woman received when she told of having an abortion. I didn’t cheer. I wasn’t happy she’d had an abortion. I didn’t envy her position in that time and place. She said it wasn’t difficult for her, that she didn’t have any regrets, but still…it wasn’t a scenario I exalted any woman finding herself in. But I was certainly grateful she had the choice.
And looking back, I admire her for speaking up.
I’ve not got much doubt that one in three women I know have had an abortion (especially since it’s likely I’m not aware of all who have). Friends who’ve shared their stories have done so in hushed tones over coffee or glasses of wine. I haven’t cheered. But I’ve been damn grateful.
Why? Because they weren’t ready. They weren’t in a position to give a child the life he or she deserved. And that alone is reason enough for me. Because it’s not just about the women. It’s also about the children. Sometimes, my support has more to do with them than with their mothers. Have you ever known a child whose parents didn’t want him or her? I have. And those are pretty terrible circumstances to view from the outside. I sure as hell can’t imagine living them.
That said, I’m certainly not of the belief that all unplanned pregnancies result in children living lives tormented by their mothers’ not wanting them. Still, for me, being pro-choice has a lot to do with believing children have the best chance at good lives when they’re welcomed into the world not when they’re unwelcome en utero and potentially beyond. I appreciate this sentiment from Joycelyn Elders, former US Surgeon General: We really need to get over this love affair we have with the fetus and start worrying about children. Yes, yes, yes.
(To the folks out there who’ve adopted children, I applaud you. If only all babies who were unwanted from conception got to exit the womb into your loving and open arms – or those of others in your generous community – what a difference that would make!)
Women have ended unwanted pregnancies for centuries through a variety of both safe and reliable and unpredictable, unsafe methods – by inserting crocodile dung (read: poop) into their vaginas, for example, by drinking toxic teas, and by purposefully introducing infection into the uterus to induce miscarriage. Jamming coat hangers through the cervix into the uterus was not uncommon in America prior to the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision ruling state bans on abortion a violation of a woman’s Constitutional right to her personal “zone of privacy.”
And there’s that: as far as I’m concerned, women’s private parts are just that – theirs and private – even when occupied by clusters of cells that might potentially someday become a baby. Prior to the point at which those cells can exist independently of uterine walls, they’re still an extension of a woman and, as such, her concern.
Roe v. Wade didn’t introduce abortion to America. It certainly didn’t inspire women to get abortions. [And, if it were ever reversed, women would return to such unsafe methods of avoiding unwanted births; that’s how much this matters to them, to us.] What the seminal decision did was make abortion safer. It allowed women a legal medical alternative to so-called “back alley” abortions. And women living in an advanced, civilized society like ours deserve that common and decent regard to their health and safety. Planned Parenthood helps to ensure it.
I saw a bumpersticker once that said “Don’t agree with abortion? Don’t have one.” That’s good stuff. It’s the stuff of “You take care of you; I’ll take care of me,” and I guess that’s how I sum up my thinking with regards to women and abortion. I care about kids and want them to be wanted. I care about women because, well, I am one…and because I treasure the women in my life and want the very best for them. And if I extrapolate that beyond my social circle, I do want the best for all women. We represent 51% of the population after all. But with less than 25% of us in political leadership nationwide, it occurs to me – and terrifies me – that if I don’t speak up, I might someday be sorry.
(It’s worth noting here, at the suggestion of one of the Y-chromosomed among us, that PP doesn’t just serve women but men as well. Still, women are my focus here.)
You don’t have to agree with my perspective or my support of Planned Parenthood and its myriad services. I’m not trying to change your mind or beliefs. This essay is by no means exhaustive. With Pollitt’s nudging, though, I’m choosing to “come out” from behind my pink-tinted frame and wear my letter “A.” I dedicate my branding to all the women – within and outside my circle – who speak in hushed tones or not at all. My voice is for you.