Some 40 years ago, I walked into Planned Parenthood for the first time. I was 25, newly married, in need of birth control and living through what we now call our “Hamburger Helper” years.
I stopped at the clinic in downtown Minneapolis and recall being vaguely annoyed that the nurse couldn’t just dash off a prescription and send me on my way. Despite my pleading and cajoling, she wouldn’t budge.
“No exam, no pills,” she said firmly. So I grabbed the appointment card, slamming the door on the way out.
A few days later, a resident — one of the many who rotated through the clinic — bopped into the examining room. The fact that he looked my age, had curly dark hair and dressed in tennis whites (it was a Saturday) while I was wrapped in a flimsy paper gown did little to improve my mood.
After I got dressed, he put a hand on my knee and said he had “concerns.” He was sending me to a specialist on Monday morning, turning my annoyance into anger. Clearly, this just-out-of-school doctor must have finished at the bottom of his class.
But on Monday, the specialist confirmed the resident’s suspicions. Something was growing in my abdomen — and growing fast. I went from the office to the now-defunct Mount Sinai Hospital, where my husband met me with a grim expression and an overnight bag.
The next few days were a blur of being poked and prodded, of endless scans and tests. This was craziness. Healthy 25-year-olds with no symptoms simply do not blithely go from running errands to a hospital room before they’ve even finished all their wedding thank-you notes.
The diagnosis: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Next came surgery in the early morning hours of a gray February day. When I woke up in recovery, no one had to tell me that I’d had a hysterectomy. One glance at the clock — now at 4:02 p.m., seven hours later — was all I needed to know.
Earlier this week, for the first time in years, I found myself thinking back to that resident — I never even found out his name — when President Trump’s 2018 budget proposal was released. It would bar Planned Parenthood from receiving federal funds that help pay for health care services for millions of Americans.
The budget is part of the administration’s effort to keep a campaign promise to exclude “certain entities that provide abortions, including Planned Parenthood” from participating in any Department of Health and Human Services programs, according to a White House fact sheet.
“From day one, women’s health has been squarely in the cross hairs of this administration,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “If passed, this budget would undo decades of progress for women when it comes to their ability to have health care, to pursue their career and education goals and to lead safe, productive lives.”
Her words stirred something in me. I was one of those women — and I needed to speak up.
Though some conservatives portray Planned Parenthood as some kind of abortion factory, the main reasons patients visit a clinic are for STD testing (45 percent) and contraception (31 percent), and the remaining amount are for other family planning services. More than twice as many people visited for pregnancy tests as for abortion procedures, according to a 2014 annual report.
Defunding Planned Parenthood would disproportionately affect the economically disadvantaged, minorities and teens, because clinics are everywhere — on blighted city blocks, suburban strip malls and rural communities. Just last week, Planned Parenthood of Iowa announced it would shutter four of the state’s 12 clinics. Surely more closures will follow elsewhere — and if the Republican health care bill becomes law, resulting in some 23 million fewer people without insurance, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the forecast for reproductive health will become even more dire.
Access is one reason that the teen pregnancy rate is at a 30-year low, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards told the New York Times last year. “In any other moment, folks would say ‘let’s do more of that.’ ”
But this is a moment like no other. My future was just getting launched when I walked into Planned Parenthood on LaSalle Street. Because the right person was there at precisely the right time — when the tumor was large enough to be palpable, but before it had wrapped itself around other organs — I went on to have a fulfilling career as a mother (my two kids are adopted) and as a journalist. I could be caregiver for my elderly parents and other relatives. When women are healthy, their families are healthy — and it was all made possible by an organization that some lawmakers never seem to tire of demonizing.
Since I was one of the lucky ones; a beneficiary of those “decades of progress” that Laguens cited this week — and it seemed like a good time to repay the debt. And maybe track down that resident and say “thank you.”
Bonnie Miller Rubin, a former Star Tribune reporter, recently retired from the Chicago Tribune.