This is not a story of how abortion is right or wrong. Nor is it about what other people are doing with their bodies, or what I think about that (as though it’s any of my business). No: this is just my story of how Planned Parenthood made some hard times a little easier for me, and how “real” healthcare (i.e., via insurance plans) can make things difficult.
When I was 24, I had an abortion. My boyfriend – ex at the time, though later my husband, and then my ex-husband – and I agreed we didn’t want to have a kid. We were broken up, but, like idiots, were still having sex. I had been on the Pill, but got off it, thinking it would help me move on.
We were both poor. Joe was still in law school, and I had just gotten my MA. I worked part-time and was trying to make it as a writer. I lived hand to mouth, some months barely making the rent and utilities on time. But of course this was all by choice. It was the life I wanted.
The Planned Parenthood clinic I went to was the same one where John C. Salvi III shot and killed two workers, Shannon Lowney and Leanne Nichols. On the day of my appointment, I was nervous, for more than one reason. There were protesters outside the clinic, and as I tried to I rush past them, a middle-aged man approached me.
“Miss, can I talk to you for a minute?” he asked.
A yellow jacketed guard swooped up beside me. “You’re okay,” he said, ushering me in.
The whole procedure didn’t take long, but that didn’t mean it was easy. Needing a guard to protect me against possible homicidal maniacs who didn’t know me yet cared what happened in my vajayjay wasn’t easy. Being in a room afterward with the other women, some crying, some sad and spacey, was no picnic either. No one was saying, “Now let’s get some cosmos, lah dee dah!” It doesn’t mean that it’s not still difficult, remembering, after all these years.
But Planned Parenthood made that difficult day somewhat less so. I was able to get an appointment quickly, no one hassled me about my decision (except the random middle-aged white dude), and the doctors and nurses were kind yet efficient.
Plus, yeah, the guards.
Planned Parenthood has been there for me other times too. Just last year, in fact, when I got to pursue my long-time dream of quitting my boring job in New York to write full-time. My boyfriend Alex got a gig with a start-up in San Francisco, and offered to support me while I tried to break into freelancing, the way I had the year before when the huge investment bank he worked for collapsed and he went to music school.
And all of this was wonderful except for one thing. No health insurance.
Without an employer, I had no idea what to do. Pay $600 to $800 a month for the same plan under COBRA? (No thanks.) Pay $400 a month for a plan that may or may not cover everything I need? Go without and pray that I didn’t get hit by a truck? Suck it up and get a job?
But despite all my concerns, the one thing I wasn’t worried about was my yearly Pap smear. I knew that Planned Parenthood would take care of me, no matter what.
To me, Planned Parenthood isn’t just about abortions. It’s about general healthcare, for both men and women. Even without insurance, you can get a whole array of services, from breast exams, to cancer screenings, to, of course, Pap smears, which are integral in the early detection of cervical cancer. Planned Parenthood makes it so easy — despite having to pass through a metal detector and give your paperwork to workers protected behind bullet-proof glass — it would be foolish not to get checked every year.
And the cost of my appointment without a job or insurance? Zero dollars.
Contrast that with trying to find a healthcare provider through traditional insurance. One year when I was looking for a new gynecologist, I spent a week calling doctor, after doctor, after doctor. No one seemed to be accepting new patients, and the ones who were couldn’t give me an appointment for months. After many phone calls and several days of frustration, I finally ferreted one out.
I’ll admit I loved having my own doctor who knew me and my history, but then eventually my insurance got cut, and I found myself paying upwards of $200 out-of-pocket. But I guessed that was just how it was, at least in this country.
Recently, I got a part-time job and insurance through my new workplace. Again, this wasn’t a smooth process. As a part-time worker, I was eligible, then I wasn’t. Then I was. I went to the doctor. I got a bill. $300. Turned out the insurance was temporary. Great, now you tell me. Again, I was without insurance, although I had a job. And again, the one thing I didn’t worry about was my annual Pap.
But now it seems I do have to worry. Very much.
Eventually my insurance debacle got straightened out, and while I’m relieved to be covered, I’m also disturbed at how difficult basic healthcare was too obtain. And if federal funding is cut from Planned Parenthood, it may become even more so.