Defunding Planned Parenthood Means More Clap and Shotgun Weddings: Why The Pence Amendment Sucks
Unless you live in Iran, China, or a state of affairs in which a bad breakup has forced you to deprive yourself of Facebook access, you’ve heard by now of the Pence Amendment, a Republican-sponsored bill that aims to strip federal funding from any organization that offers abortions, including Planned Parenthood. If you’re going to stop reading here, I’ll bottom-line it for you: it sucks.
Much-Facebooked this week has been this video of Rep. Jackie Speier (D – CA) righteously calling out her colleagues on the hypocrisy of the assumption that women somehow don’t assign gravity to the abortion procedure; that women, the ones who actually have said procedure, can’t possibly appreciate the vitality of a second-trimester fetus, or else they’d never do something as “cavalier” as have an abortion. Rep. Speier, a Roman Catholic mother of two, revealed that she once terminated a pregnancy at 17 weeks because of medical complications with the fetus. Needless to say, it takes a lot of courage—you might even say it takes balls—to stand up in front of a hostile audience and admit you had a controversial medical procedure.
Planned Parenthood does provide abortions. That’s important, and I’m grateful to Rep. Speier for highlighting the need for that medical procedure. But I think it’s also important to remember that PP provides a lot of less controversial and equally important medical services—prenatal care, birth control counseling, STI screening, and more. In fact, abortions comprise only 3% of PP’s health services, and denying federal funding to Planned Parenthood and organizations like it undermines the other 97% of their medical care, too, which means more clap and shotgun weddings for everyone. I’ve never had an abortion, but I’ve absolutely been the beneficiary of PP’s health care.
When I was 19, I spent the summer in San Francisco working for a now-defunct and ironically named nightlife magazine called Karma. One morning, I woke up and couldn’t pee. I would try to flip the usually unconscious psychological valve that makes me pee, and only a few measly, painful drops would emerge, along with unimaginable burning pain. I was flummoxed. I tried to pee again. I failed again. For days. For five days, I panicked. Certainly I had syphilis, or AIDS. Certainly the Catholic God of my upbringing was casting a scourge on my poon in retribution for the premarital nookie. My student health insurance was on the other side of the country in New York, my roommate was a gay man who was peeing just fine, and I definitely didn’t want to call my parents. I was doubled over in pain and my urine was colors it shouldn’t be. Something had to be done.
I did what any woman would do: I called Planned Parenthood and made an appointment. Wincingly, I climbed on the bus and got myself there, expecting the Planned Parenthood waiting room of my young liberal-elite white feminist imagination, one in which I would be congratulated for my sex-positive outlook, treated quickly and efficiently, patted on the shoulder, and ushered back out into my carefree pursuit of nookie with a purseful of free condoms.
The waiting room I entered was—not that one. The waiting room I entered was crowded with a few women who looked like me and a lot more who didn’t, staffed by stressed and overworked nurses, and fraught with a miasma of panic like mine. The bowl of free condoms was empty by noon. Nonetheless, a friendly, professional nurse took me into an exam room, gave me a paper gown, and handed me a cup I knew I wouldn’t be able to pee in. I did the only thing I had energy left to do. I burst into tears, alone in stirrups with an empty cup.
A doctor came in and witnessed my pitiable state. Between sobs, I recounted my symptoms: abdominal pain, endless burning, and no pee. The doctor compassionately told me that she was almost certain I had a urinary tract infection. As she examined me to confirm her suspicion, she assured me that UTIs are a minor, easily treatable, but incredibly uncomfortable plight. She gave me a prescription and let me know me that PP had a sliding payment scale and that I didn’t have to call my parents. She instructed me to eat something, pop one of the two giant Cipro pills rattling around in the bottle (“Don’t be alarmed if your pee turns neon orange.”), and promised I’d be feeling better by the afternoon.
The point is this: when I strode back out onto the Civic Center Plaza and bought myself a 10 am hot dog that was nowhere as good as the ones back in New York, I knew some things about my reproductive health that I hadn’t known before. Fear breeds from a lack of information; we feel afraid when we don’t know or understand what’s happening. From my visit to Planned Parenthood, I learned that:
A) I did not, in fact, have syphilis or AIDS, and God was not punishing me.
B) The cause of the unbearable discomfort in my tender places was easily treatable.
C) Free condoms don’t come free, and
D) Very few people go to Planned Parenthood unless they feel in some way scared, alone, underserved, or in pain.
By jeopardizing Planned Parenthood, then, the Pence Amendment most directly impacts people—women—who are already scared, alone, underserved, or in pain. Medical information about reproductive health—medical information about anything, really—should provide a lot of information and no judgment, and that is exactly what Planned Parenthood provided to me when I was 19, scared, alone, and in pain.
The matrix of reproductive health issues that we call choice isn’t just an avenue to abortion. Choice feeds a wealth of medical information based on the premise that women should be able to make informed decisions about their bodies, and Planned Parenthood has arguably done more than any other organization in America to equip women to make those decisions. If you haven’t already, sign Planned Parenthood’s petition here. The price of losing information is too high.
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