Photo of nurse by Sean Locke via Stocksy
"I truthfully don't know where I'd be in my life if my friends hadn't taken me to Planned Parenthood."
When House Republicans released their bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act on Monday, it included a provision to defund Planned Parenthood by pulling Medicaid reimbursements from the nonprofit organization for one year—something the GOP has been threatening to do for years, despite a sustained outcry from the millions of people who depend on Planned Parenthood for crucial medical care.
According to Planned Parenthood, 2.5 million people visit their health centers each year, and they reach nearly double that amount worldwide through their sexual and reproductive education, information, and outreach programs annually. For the 75 percent of patients who live at or below 150 percent of the national poverty line, Planned Parenthood is their only source for affordable health care. With estimates of roughly 52 million expected to be uninsured under the GOP's new plan by 2026, affordable health centers with quality care are necessary for survival.
President Trump has said that if Planned Parenthood ceases to offer abortions, the government will maintain federal funding. Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood's President, tweeted in response, "Planned Parenthood is proud to provide abortion—a necessary service that's as vital to our mission as birth control or cancer screenings."
In an effort to emphasize the importance of every health care service provided by the organization, Broadly interviewed 50 Planned Parenthood patients across the country who have relied on the organization's services at some point in their lives. Of those interviewed, four had gone to Planned Parenthood for abortion services, but every patient relied on their local Planned Parenthood center for regular reproductive care like pap smears, STI screenings, and birth control. Here's what six of them had to say about their experiences.
Last August, my partner and I found ourselves unexpectedly expecting. Initially, I visited a local women's health clinic for confirmation and counseling. The waiting room was blank and sterile, save for the scattered religious and choice-shaming posters. The staff I interacted with was cold and accusatory. The entire experience was uncomfortable and terrifying. I left in tears.
I decided to seek counseling at our nearby Planned Parenthood center. My partner accompanied me this time, as I was now skittish of such establishments. From the moment we walked in, it was a noticeably different environment. The staff were friendly and informed, the waiting room was full of informative material, and we immediately felt comfortable.
There was absolute trust in us as people to make the decision that was right for our family.
After confirming that I was pregnant, we sat with a nurse who simply asked us how we'd like to proceed. Having already discussed it at length, we told her that we had decided to keep the baby. We were never pressured at any point to consider abortion, even after we expressed concerns about our questionable financial situation. She gave us pamphlets on WIC and EBT, and other free or low-cost resources in our area. When we told her of specific reproductive issues that ran in both of our families, she offered to refer us to a fantastic OB/GYN closer to our area. My partner and I both left with a new sense that we weren't alone in this unknown territory.
While I was aware of Planned Parenthood's pro-choice alignment, I wasn't expecting their readiness to arm us with so much knowledge moving forward with the pregnancy. There was absolute trust in us as people to make the decision that was right for our family. The experience provided an entirely new level to my view of reproductive freedom, and I will forever be thankful to Planned Parenthood for that."
— Caitlin Cooksey, 24, Gainesville, Florida
Earlier this year, I was in a particularly emotional period of uncertainty after an ambiguous sexual encounter where I felt taken advantage of when the person I was sleeping with took off the condom without my consent, and without my realizing until it was too late. I later developed some worrying symptoms that led me to believe I may have contracted an STD from him. I felt violated and vulnerable. What happened to me doesn't fit any clear definition of sexual abuse, but I was left feeling abused.
I had panic attacks, including one while I was at the Planned Parenthood office wondering if I might be HIV positive. Noticing my stress, the nurse administering the test brought me to one of the staff social workers, who let me talk through all of the emotional trauma I was battling. Twenty minutes later the test came back negative. We hugged, I cried out of relief and walked out of there with a renewed sense of self-worth. To fully regain that was a continuous uphill battle, but those twenty minutes of counseling were invaluable to my emotional healing process.
— Katie Schwartz, 29, Queens, New York
I'm a female-to-male trans man, and Planned Parenthood was my saving grace before the Affordable Care Act. I counted specifically on them for my hormone care and for regular check-ups. They were kind and curious as most doctors are, but they also cared.
Over time I brought multiple friends there who were without insurance for true hormone care. Planned Parenthood was also a safe haven for regular check-ups, like paps and such. When you're a trans man who needs reproductive care, it can be difficult to navigate, but they did it with care and grace.
— Anonymous, 31, Sacramento, California
I was 16 years old and shy, he was 19 and confident. My friends introduced me to him so I was inclined to trust him even though I couldn't understand why he was interested in an awkward, naive little thing like me. I was determined to keep him around and to make sure he didn't know how inexperienced I was. I knew about safe sex because we covered it in health class in school, my friends and I talked about it and encouraged each other to use condoms, and my parents and respected mentors had these conversations with me but all the education and my own convictions on the matter didn't stand a chance against him. Once this older, experienced young man said, "I don't like using condoms," the conversation was over.
The woman who spoke with me was so kind and presented me with my options. Then, she held my hand throughout the process.
I didn't want to have a kid; I was 16! I became increasingly stressed each time we had sex but I never said anything to him. I finally mentioned it to my friends who told me that they knew a place that could help, a place where I could go and share how foolish I've been without ever having to tell my parents. They took me to Planned Parenthood in Boston where I had my first gynecological exam. The doctor let me speak openly and never made me feel ashamed. She gave me birth control so I didn't have to feel panicked each month until my period came. I started to feel in control of my life and my body again.
I truthfully don't know where I'd be in my life if my friends hadn't taken me to Planned Parenthood. I continued to use their free services throughout high school and when I moved to a new city for college.
— Niki Volz, 30, Boston, Massachusetts
When I was 20 I had an abortion at Planned Parenthood. I was terrified of being pregnant and chose Planned Parenthood because I knew I would be accepted without question. They were also the only place I could go to in Texas that wouldn't require me to use the insurance I had through my parents.
I was in a long-term emotionally abusive relationship. I knew in my heart that I could not be attached to this person forever, let alone try to raise a child with him. It would have broken me. The staff at Planned Parenthood made it easy for me to leave him in the lobby and open up without his input, which he hated. The woman who spoke with me was so kind and presented me with my options as well as what to expect. Then, she held my hand throughout the process.
The trauma of that day still lives with me all the time, but I shudder to think about the kind of experience I would have had without Planned Parenthood. They set me up with a birth control plan that my boyfriend couldn't manipulate and that I'd have a hard time screwing up, and sent me out to handle the crumbling pieces of my life.
I gained autonomy, confidence, and a sense of self-efficacy being treated in a place that puts their patient's care first and practices with such well-versed sensitivity. I was able to prioritize myself and change my life because of my access to Planned Parenthood.
— Katie Osborn Fischer, 30, Sonora, California
As high school teenagers, we all knew that Planned Parenthood was where you got condoms for free and other forms of birth control without your parents finding out. In rural southern Illinois we called it "The Clinic." My first time in the clinic was when I was 15 years old and considering having sex with my boyfriend. I pretended not to be nervous, and the friend who escorted me didn't ask if I was. The staff was respectful, helpful, and asked sensitive questions in a direct way. It was simple: exam, prescription, done. I routinely went to refill my birth control prescription and for exams.
Five years later, my partner of three years and I broke up. After sleeping together, I was devastated when he confessed that he had slept with other people. It was the staff at Planned Parenthood who consoled me with compassion, walked me through the STI test, and personally called me to reveal my test results. Although I didn't appreciate or fully understand the magnitude of Planned Parenthood's role in my sexual and reproductive health or in my development as a young woman, I can now clearly see their influence and I am so grateful.
— Heather Arnett, 40, San Francisco, California
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