I am privileged to say that I’ve always had health insurance, so I’ve always been able to schedule appointments with an OB/GYN, receive birth control, and get checked regularly for STDs. I was on my parents’ insurance plan, and fortunately, my dad’s union always provided excellent insurance that I’d been able to use, no matter where I lived or what kind of medical needs I had. But when my dad lost his job and subsequently lost his insurance, I went into panic mode.
I was due for a gyno checkup but had not yet scheduled it. Luckily, I have an IUD that’s effective for another year, so I was covered on the birth control front. But I still worried about needing pap smears, STD tests, breast exams, and my general reproductive health. A couple days after our insurance expired, I called my local Planned Parenthood.
Living in the ass-backward state of Indiana, I knew that several Planned Parenthood clinics in the state had closed in the past several years, and I wondered if the constant attacks on reproductive rights by Republicans across the country would prevent me from receiving the resources I needed.
Luckily, there are two Planned Parenthoods within 30 minutes from my house, and when I called one of the clinics, the administrator was helpful and told me I could schedule an appointment immediately. When I explained that I didn’t have insurance and that I was only working part-time, she referred me to a different Planned Parenthood, explaining the other clinic charged patients on an income-based scale.
Feeling relieved, I scheduled an appointment for the following week. When I arrived, the staff treated me with respect and kindness. The nurses and doctor were efficient, professional, and knowledgeable. And although it was my first time at a Planned Parenthood, I quickly realized that the doctor who saw me was more professional than some of the gynos I had seen while I had insurance.
She addressed all of my concerns, including my worry that I may need to return to Planned Parenthood to replace my IUD if I didn’t have insurance by the following year. She assured me that her clinic removed and inserted several types of IUDs, usually at little or no cost. She explained how often I needed a pap smear and when I should seek a pelvic exam.
The staff asked me, in confidence, important questions that I don’t remember other gynecologists asking me: “Have you been raped or sexually assaulted?” “Has anyone abused you or threatened you?” and other inquiries that dealt with consent and violence. While some people might find these questions invasive or difficult to answer, I recognized their importance and their role in opening up communication between patient and doctor.
Reproductive health isn’t just inspecting the vagina; it’s including discussions about sexual violence, mental health, and exploitation.
At the end of the appointment, the staff evaluated my income and told me my checkup was free. They told me they would call if any of my tests came back abnormal and offered me a paper bag of condoms. Basically, it was a great day.
Although it was far from my first time at a gynecologist’s office, it was an experience I won’t forget. I didn’t come into the office with a life-threatening condition or needing an abortion. I arrived for a simple exam to ensure my wellness.
But in this horrific political and cultural landscape, women face barriers to even the most basic reproductive health services. Politicians clamoring to strip women of their reproductive rights, the Republicans in Congress trying to shred the Affordable Care Act, a president who has been accused by multiple women of sexual assault, and uninformed pro-birth supporters pushing for “personhood” legislature all impede the right to reproductive wellness.
We are living in a climate where hostility toward women and their decisions about their bodies is ever-present. More importantly, we are living in a world where having no access to reproductive and sexual health is a reality for women of color, immigrant women, uninsured and/or impoverished women, the LGBTQ+ community, and non-English speaking women.
But Planned Parenthood offers a place where these individuals can receive essential medical care with dignity.
Afterwards, I took a moment to thank my doctor and tell her how grateful I was for Planned Parenthood’s services.
When I told her that I was scared about the future of the clinics, she looked me in the eye and smiled. Then she shook her head, saying, “Don’t worry, we aren’t going anywhere. We will always be here.”