Family Practice: Access Denied

Picture a 16-year-old girl, huddled amongst strangers at a bus stop. The snow is stacked so high behind the bus bench, it creates a small wall against the biting winter wind. The sun is waning and she is worried about taking the city bus back home in the dark. She could have cut class to start her trek earlier in the day, but she’s not that kind of student. This girl is an honor student — selected for invitation-only classes and spends her time in band and theater rehearsals. Well, when she isn’t working one of her two after-school jobs. But there’s a pain in her stomach that won’t go away. Her mother works two jobs, too. They have no health insurance. And so, this girl waits in the cold late-afternoon for the city bus to take her to a place where she hopes she can get some kind of relief from the mysterious pain.

Finally, the bus comes. She carefully counts her fare (she must be sure to have enough to get home) and is sure to get her transfer slip. Every penny counts! The bus rattles down the thorough-fare in the early rush-hour traffic, squealing and slipping ever-so-slightly in the white mush.

After nearly an hour, she makes it to a small strip-mall with a handful of storefronts. For a second, it looks like the office is closed. After all this time on the bus and waiting! But thankfully, the door swings open. She’s a little nervous to go inside, to be in a medical facility all on her own.  But her single-mother is working. What choice does the girl have? How long can she wait?

The woman behind the counter spots her and says, “How can we help you?” And the girl does not know how to answer. She’s never done this before! But the woman helps her through checking in, shows her how to fill out the paper work, and explains the sliding-scale fees. The girl qualifies for care at a cost of $10. It is a relief! And yet, as little as $10 seems it is still significant. The girl only has $20 to last until her next paycheck and it must cover all her bus fares to and from work and any time she eats away from home (including school).

Thankfully, the waiting room is nearly empty and the girl gets in to see a doctor fairly quickly. She wishes she didn’t have to go to a doctor by herself. She is scared that something serious is wrong. The doctor is patient, methodical, and kind — and has answers!

“Thank God!” the girl thinks and tries not to cry. It was nothing bad after all! This place is a miracle! “Where else could I go if this place wasn’t here?” she thinks.

After the office visit, the girl heads back out into the dark night, snow swirling, chilled breath creating a halo in the street light. She walks six blocks to the bus stop, where she waits alone on a freezing bench. Her stomach growls — it’s long past dinner time. She tries to do homework while she waits but her fingers freeze up too much to write on the page. It’s getting late. When the bus finally comes it’s another hour back to her side of town and another dozen blocks back to the tiny apartment she and her mother share.

This girl was me when I was in high school in Alaska. And the place I went to that helped me when there was no other? Planned Parenthood.

That’s right. The very place that people like Rep. Mike Pence want to defund and shut down is the very place that so many real people  have gone to get necessary medical help. The situation I was in had nothing to do with sex or contraceptives. I was sick. I needed to see a doctor. I didn’t have any other resources but a friend told me about Planned Parenthood. I thought it was just a place for people to go for birth control. I didn’t know that they could help with other medical issues. But they did and they still do!

And they are still helping women all over America. The help approximately 1.85 million low-income women with all kinds of health care issues from family planning to diabetes to cancer. Men, too. In fact, according to their 2008/2009 annual report, only 3% of their services were for abortions but 17% of their services were for cancer prevention and screenings.

As Gail Collins put it in the New York Times this weekend:

But here’s the most notable thing about this whole debate: The people trying to put Planned Parenthood out of business do not seem concerned about what would happen to the 1.85 million low-income women who get family-planning help and medical care at the clinics each year. It just doesn’t come up. There’s not even a vague contingency plan.

There is no comparable organization to Planned Parenthood, providing the same kind of services on a national basis.

There certainly wasn’t one for me.

As I’ve been researching birth control and family planning for this series, I decided I couldn’t write a post about condoms and pills and IUDs before I wrote about Planned Parenthood. I mean, the very name “planned parenthood” is something we should all be able to get behind. If more people could plan their pregnancies and plan becoming parents — through access to affordable medical care including reproductive care — it would help a lot of other issues including reducing the number of abortions and reducing the number of people who need to apply for government services because they are economically stretched too thin. And those are hallmark conservative crusades. So it has always baffled me how the people who want to shut down places like Planned Parenthood can’t see that the very place they want to destroy is actually working toward (some) common goals — in a way. But I digress…

I’m sorry if my story was too personal. But this war on reproductive health care is personal. It’s personal to a lot of people. This isn’t just about Planned Parenthood. This is about access to affordable medical care for all. This is about access to all forms of family planning services.

Look for more in the Family Practice series — with posts on contraceptive side effects and navigating post-baby birth control (IUD anyone?) — in coming days.

6 thoughts on “Family Practice: Access Denied

  1. Pingback: Family Practice Part 2: Curves Ahead « The Sin City Siren

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