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On August 13, 2015, I called Planned Parenthood. It was a last resort.
I’m employed, insured, and independent in a small city with plenty of health care providers. I wasn’t pregnant. I already had birth control pills. But my job is kind of chaotic and I have a touch of ADD (like many American adults), so even with a daily alarm on my phone, I often forgot to take my pill.
Several friends had raved about their IUDs, and after doing some research, I decided it was something I wanted if I was a candidate. The problem was finding a provider willing to do it.
I called office after office, and they all told me the same thing: “We only do that if it’s for medical reasons.” I never really found out what qualifies as a “medical reason,” because apparently the initial intended purpose of contraception isn’t enough. Perhaps if I had endometriosis or some other diagnosis, they would have considered it. I was a little dumbfounded.
Eventually, I decided I’d rather drive two hours to Planned Parenthood than be denied care by another provider. I scheduled the appointment on a Saturday so I wouldn’t have to miss a day of work to make the long drive.
The scheduler asked if I could do Saturday, August 22. I agreed, unaware of the fact that this was the same day as the nationwide #ProtestPP event.
I approached the office building at 7:45 that morning and encountered some earlybird protesters. It didn’t seem out of the ordinary to see this small group of sign-holders and shouters here, so I just sighed and kept driving (except when one of them stood in front of my car trying to stop me from entering the parking lot).
As I walked from my car to the door, they screamed at me, shouting things like, “Just because you’re pregnant doesn’t mean you have to make this choice!”
I made the security guard laugh with some snide remarks about the empty state of my uterus. I felt relaxed and happy to be kissing my birth control pills goodbye.
I’ll spare you the details of the procedure, but I will tell you this -- it was one of the most painful experiences of my life. According to the nurse practitioner, it only took about three minutes, but it felt more like 15 or 20.
I have a lot of pride, though, so instead of crying, I bit my shirt collar and promised myself a lot of crying when I got back to my car.
After the procedure (is that nurse SURE it was only three minutes?), I got dressed and headed back to my car. I was greeted at the door by two volunteer escorts, and at first, I was a little taken aback. Why did these people want to walk me to my car?
In the hour or so that I was inside, the protesters had appeared by the hundreds. They brought with them photos of bloody fetusus, signs claiming that Jesus is watching your every move, and, perhaps my least favorite, the cries of, “Murderer! Baby killer!” I spun around once taking it all in.
I asked the escorts, “Are these people here every Saturday?” They explained that this particular day was especially bad because of the #ProtestPP event. I shook my head in disbelief and thanked them for donating their time to supporting patients like me.
They walked back to the door as I got into my car. I locked the door and looked around me again. I was tired from the procedure, my uterus was cramping something terrible, and there were hundreds of people shouting at me.
I suddenly wished those escorts could ride in my car with me as I drove through the chaos. l felt so attacked and dehumanized -- all I had done was get a little piece of plastic rammed up my cervix so I won’t get pregnant! Why were all these people here?
I felt an urge to roll down my window and explain that most of the people in Planned Parenthood were just getting regular medical care, but I knew these people had heard that reasoning before. They were still there trying to strip me of my pride and my sense of self-worth even though they had no idea why I was at the office that day.
So, I just drove away, crying to myself as I tried not to look at the signs and tuned out the muffled yelling.
I took ibuprofen to help with the cramping, and stopped at a grocery store to pick up something to eat.
While I wandered around, I tried to figure out why those protesters bothered me so much. Sure, they were rude. But they were targeting patients that had received abortion services; was I allowed to feel violated after that experience?
I tried to put myself in the shoes of a 17-year-old girl who is scared that she might be pregnant, and doesn’t want to tell her parents. What if she had been a patient that day? What would that have done to her self-confidence, her trust in her community, and her willingness to get help when she needs it? Would she have even made it to the door, or would she have turned around after facing all that anger?
If I felt so degraded by this pro-life group, how would she feel? Thinking about this made me want to cry again.
I didn’t identify with the pro-life movement, but I also didn’t align myself strongly with the pro-choice movement. I always took the cowardly position of saying, “Well, let’s prevent those pregnancies in the first place and this won’t even be a fight!”
Of course, the best way to prevent abortion is to magically stop all pregnancies that aren’t meticulously planned for, but that goal is so unrealistic that it ignores the very real problems happening right now.
I’m from an intensely religious and conservative family who would probably sob themselves to sleep if they knew I even supported Planned Parenthood, so I’m a little ashamed to admit that I still haven’t gotten the courage to pronounce myself openly pro-choice. However, I am certainly anti-pro-life after the experience I had outside Planned Parenthood on August 22.
If I had known that #ProtestPP was happening on that day, I would have requested a different appointment date. Over the past few months, though, I have grown to appreciate the experience I had that day.
It was eye-opening, and I will remember that feeling of violation for the rest of my life. I will remember that feeling when I try to help somebody change their unhealthy behavior. I will remember that feeling when I am encouraging somebody to make a tough decision. And I will remember that feeling when, maybe someday, I have children of my own and I teach them empathy.
I’m sad that it took a personal experience for me to feel that empathy for the targets of #ProtestPP, but I am forever thankful that I had my IUD appointment that morning.