I’ve been to Planned Parenthood twice in my life. The first time was after my sexual assault. The second time was as a single, uninsured mother.
The first time, I was scared. I was unsure of what would happen to me or what had actually happened to me. It had been a late night. I had been presenting a paper at an undergraduate conference, which I had traveled to alone, and gone out with some other students. I woke up, bruised and sick. I skipped the presentations and a networking session to take a cab to a Planned Parenthood. I knew of nowhere else to go. I suppose I could have gone to the police, but I had seen what happened to one of my sisters when she reported her assault. I had fought so hard to go to college, I didn’t want to have to go home. I didn’t want to face the countless questions of “what did you do?” and “why didn’t you just…?” I was also very poor, washing my hair with hand soap, and living off Doritos in order to scrape together enough money to pay for toothpaste.
I don’t remember much about my visit. Just that they gave me a checkup. Assured me I would be OK. I remember the nurse hugging me, reminding me my life was not over. I had choices.
Sixteen years later, I was in a different situation. Temporarily uninsured, tired, going through a divorce and short on money. I needed a checkup and knew where I could find one. I made an appointment.
A war is being waged under the banner of saving the babies, but the carnage is the health and safety of women. In 2017, four clinics in the state were forced to close after the Iowa Legislature blocked state funding from going to abortion providers. This week, Planned Parenthood was bullied out of the Title X grant program. A new rule by the administration barred Title X recipients from referring patients to abortion providers except in cases of rape, incest and medical emergencies. Planned Parenthood and other clinics left the program because the rule knee-capped their providers and undermined the level of care they could provide to their patients.
Gov. Kim Reynolds’ Family Planning Program was supposed to fill the gap. Recent data from Planned Parenthood North Central States shows that the FPP isn’t serving women’s needs, and Planned Parenthood patients are not being picked up by other providers. In addition, in the counties where the clinics closed, cases of sexually transmitted infections increased 20 percent in the first year. In the six years before the closures, the average increase was 2 percent. Des Moines County, which lost its clinic in 2017, saw a 256 percent rise in cases of gonorrhea. Lee County, another county affected, saw a 184 percent rise.
Before Planned Parenthood left Title X, low-income patients could receive treatment at no cost. Now the clinics will be forced to implement a sliding scale. Women, who once received birth control for free, will now have to pay out of pocket. It’s a difficult burden on women in Iowa who are already seeing an increased maternal mortality rate, and the changes will add yet another roadblock to care for people of color, young people, rural residents, trans people and so many others.
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It’s easy to rally around the supposed loss of the lives of fetuses. But, if this was truly about babies, then there would be better sex education in schools, more concern for the children trapped in cages at the border. People tell me the clinics are grounds for mass genocide, but I’ve been there. I’ve been a patient. I never saw murder, what I saw was care.
The first time I visited a Planned Parenthood, I wasn’t pregnant. I didn’t have an abortion. I don’t know what I would have done had the outcome been different. But I do know, whatever happened it would have been my choice. A choice protected by law. A choice that every woman should have the ability to make when she needs to.
What this war is really about is who controls women — our bodies and our choices. Under Reynolds, our state has become a testing ground for policies that erode our autonomy — a Trojan horse, trundling in our slow destruction. Rural hospitals are closing. OB clinics shuttering. The FPP is failing and it’s complete crickets from the governor’s office regarding plans to support women and mothers in the state. Sen. Chuck Grassley had an entire meeting about rural health care that didn’t once mention women and the crises of care we are facing. Not once.
The crusade to save the babies is gutting the very places in this state that provide vital care. And this misinformed campaign is coming at the cost of our well-being. I don’t know how to say this, but we have to care about all people, not just the hypothetical ones.
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