“No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body.” ~ Margaret Sanger
I’m a single-issue voter. Not because I want to be but because it seems I must be, political climate as it is. Many issues concern me but none are as important as maintaining full control over my body and my reproductive destiny. That it’s 2017 and American women continue to have to fight for this most basic personal liberty means, at least for me, that other issues come second.
I support candidates, legislation, and organizations — like Planned Parenthood — who work to ensure my personal freedom, and I vigorously oppose whomever and whatever would impede it. On this, I cannot be swayed.
I can’t tell you how sick of this kind of thing I am:
I’ve had more than enough of smug, privileged white men who want to tell me what I and other women should do with our bodies. Any woman who isn’t offended by this patriarchal nonsense needs her head examined.
It’s quite simple. All I want is the same personal autonomy men have. To quote Diane von Furstenberg, “I want to live a man’s life in a woman’s body.”
For the record, I am unapologetically pro-choice, pro-family planning, pro-access to effective contraception, pro-unintended pregnancy prevention, pro-safe sex and STI testing, and pro-science/fact-based sex education. And while I shouldn’t have to say this, I will for those who might reflexively react to certain words I’ve used and misconstrue my position — I am both pro-choice and I deeply value human life. These are not mutually exclusive things. They never have been.
I’ve spent years thinking through these issues and what I know for sure is this: I’m the best person to make decisions about my body and reproductive destiny. And you’re the best person to make those decisions for you.
As Melinda Gates has said, “When a woman has the power to decide if and when to get pregnant, she has power over her future.” For me, that journey started with Planned Parenthood in 1985. I’ve been dedicated to them ever since, but let me tell you how I got there.
My mom always answered my questions about sex as I was growing up in age-appropriate, respectful ways. She also said one thing repeatedly: when you have sex for the first time, I hope you’ll wait until you are in love because sex is beautiful and special when you love the other person.
I was fifteen when I fell in love, finally encountering the object of my desire after months of quiet longing from afar. While taking a break from camping out for Prince tickets, he and I ended up at a mutual friend’s house and, after talking and laughing for a while, we shared a kiss that shifted me on my axis. It jumpstarted a teenagery love that was — like the cherry Jolly Rancher we passed back and forth between us during that first kiss — sweet, intense, and unsophisticated.
Still, the feelings that developed were like an uncut drug. All I wanted was more. They were crystalline answers to the question How do you know if you’re in love? And like Linda in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, I was certain of my maturity and readiness for more adultlike situations. (Of course, this turned out to be laughable in ways only hindsight shows you when your naÏve ass gets handed to you along with a budding realization that you had no idea just how much you didn’t know.)
In early 1985 while on a date with my boyfriend, as Madonna’s Like A Virgin played softly in the background, I casually dropped into our conversation that I was a virgin. He was two years older and he wasn’t. We sat in his van holding hands and kissing and talking about what I’d just revealed.
(Yes, he drove a van — a 70s Chevy conversion van with a small round window and “party seating” in the back, to be specific. It was like a tiny, tacky, portable rec room, complete with blue shag carpet and faux wood paneling.)
I know what you’re thinking.
It’s a reasonable thought. That my parents let me get into that bedroom on wheels and head off on dates with him still surprises me.
Anyway, over time things heated up between us, and we edged forward until we finally crossed into new territory together. The rules governing this territory required maturity and good sense. The consequences of not understanding or respecting them could be lasting and serious. It’s landscape that’s best navigated with a clear head. So, laugh with me for a moment while thinking back to how clear-headed you were when your 16-year-old brain was bathed in the potent neurochemicals of a naked, new skin rush* with someone you loved.
Hahahahahahahaha aaaaahhhhhhhhhh…Yes. That.
Thank goodness for Annie. She was my favorite childhood babysitter and she happened to be temporarily living at our house at the time. She noticed how singularly focused I’d become with my boyfriend and asked if we were sexually active. When I told her “yes” she asked if we were “being safe”. I told her we were using “protection” (i.e. condoms), and she immediately said, “let’s get you to Planned Parenthood tomorrow and also get you on birth control.” So that’s what we did.
What a relief to have a trusted adult ally in my corner because I sure didn’t want to discuss any of this with my parents. The thing was I was in love with this guy and I wanted to experience all of the intimacy and connection that went along with that. I also wanted to behave responsibly and avoid getting pregnant.
Planned Parenthood was essential in that regard, filling in the knowledge gaps from the inadequate sex ed I’d gotten in school, and doing it in a non-shaming, respectful atmosphere. The fact that I didn’t need anyone’s permission to go there to get what I needed — reproductive health care, contraception, information, testing — empowered me to prioritize my health and behave responsibly.
Between the ages of 16 and 32, Planned Parenthood was my single most important source of health care. It was affordable, which was crucial in the lean years of early adulthood. I say that both with deep gratitude that it was an available option to me, and in all due recognition that as a middle-class white woman I had more options than many of the other patients sitting in the waiting room.
The corps of female nurse practitioners who comprised Planned Parenthood’s medical staff really knew their stuff. They answered questions without judgement, and freely offered fact-based guidance that was essential to my well-being. I was so satisfied with the care I got there that I only switched to a traditional OB/Gyn practice because I became pregnant (intentionally) in my early 30s and needed to see a doctor affiliated with the hospital where I planned to deliver.
I can’t adequately describe how personally valuable Planned Parenthood is to me, but I will continue to do whatever I can to support them.
I’m not interested in getting into abortion politics here. I will, however, point out that as of 2016, only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s services were abortion related. (Since 1997, federal money has been prohibited from being used to pay for abortion services — except in cases of rape, incest, or to save the mother’s life — thanks to the Hyde Amendment.) So, 97% of what Planned Parenthood does is provide vital health care to their patients, 75% of whom have incomes at or below 150% of the federal poverty level.
I’m confounded by those who scream to defund Planned Parenthood while claiming to be against abortion because Planned Parenthood’s major focus after all is prevention of unintended pregnancies. In fact, 80% of their patients receive services to prevent unintended pregnancies. If you want fewer abortions, empower and make it easier for women to seek family planning and contraceptives, don’t defund the organization that’s been on the front lines for 100 years trying to help women make intentional choices that ensure that the children being brought into the world are wanted.
As for me, I’ll keep fighting for Planned Parenthood. I buy what Summer Brennan said in her fantastic essay Notes from the Resistance: A Column on Language and Power
“No one person can defend everything in America that will need defending in the age of Trump. What we must do, instead, is to find our particular hills to defend, and then to defend them as if our freedom depended on it.”
Protecting Planned Parenthood and women’s reproductive rights are my hills.
*Note: The phrase “naked, new skin rush” is credited to Japandroids in their song Younger Us. Listen to it and tell me you don’t remember what those days felt like.