Confession: The first time I walked into a Planned Parenthood, I didn’t even know it was one.
All I knew was that I was a poor college student without health insurance and my roommate told me they could help me get a routine exam on the cheap. And that’s exactly what they did. A nurse practitioner did a pelvic exam, performed some routine tests and sent me on my way. It was just one of many checkups I’ve had over the years. No one tried to sell me an abortion. No one filled my backpack with condoms. There were no protesters outside. In fact, it was such a non-event that I’d completely forgotten about it until I heard the news about the most recent shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.
While the alleged shooter is thought to have been angry about “baby parts,” to me Planned Parenthood was just a place for my roommates and I to get the health care we needed. It was reliable. It was affordable. It was, dare I say, boring. And I would guess that it is the same for many women who have visited a Planned Parenthood in the past decade. Despite all the political rhetoric and sensational news headlines, drama is the exception to the rule. And the rule, ideally, is basic health care for all women.
Unfortunately this is not reality because health care is not a certainty for 1 in 8 American women, particularly those already in vulnerable situations. For instance, the rate of unintended pregnancies among poor women is 137 per 1,000 women, more than five times the rate among women at the highest income level, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. And having a child is the single biggest predictor of poverty for single women, creating a vicious cycle. In addition, the American Cancer Association reported that low-income women are not only far more likely to get cervical cancer — a type of cancer for which prevention and early detection are key to survival — but are also far more likely to die of it than richer women. Clearly there is a serious gap in services for poor, uninsured or under-insured women.
All of this leads me to think that the conversation needs to be less about what Planned Parenthood may be doing wrong and more about what they’re doing right — and why no one else is stepping in to help fill that critical gap. I know that I was one of the lucky ones. I graduated from college, got married, got a good job and great health insurance; I’ve never needed to use Planned Parenthood again. But I’m grateful they were there when I needed them.
Not everyone is as lucky as I am. For many women right now, they’re neither the best nor the worst option for basic health care — they’re the only option. And basic health care shouldn’t come fraught with the danger of being intimidated, shamed, shot at or worse.
“This was a crime against women receiving health care services,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch, speaking about the Colorado Springs tragedy, and she couldn’t be more right. In an ideal world, every woman would be entitled to the same type of visit I had: comfortable, affordable and, most importantly, boring. Going to the gyno shouldn’t mean taking your life in your hands.