I could give you details of my sexual history but I am guessing that you have probably already firmly planted me in one of two categories based on my introduction: either I am the hapless victim of a philandering boyfriend, softly coerced into a physical relationship because I wanted to keep him; a guy who was out softly coercing other women behind my back – or – you see me as a probably-damaged woman with low-self esteem who was on her back for every guy she could find, and then, by golly, she ended up with her just desserts. I know these things because I have heard this from so many of my fellow Christians. I read it on social media. I hear it from my friend who refuses to vaccinate her child for HPV because “she does not want to insulate [her] daughter from the consequences of her actions.” In other words, sluts deserve diseases that will kill them. Period.
Maybe that’s why its so hard to talk about Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s). Even though, according to the Centers for Disease Control:
About 79 million Americans are currently infected with HPV (Human Papilloma Virus). About 14 million people become newly infected each year. HPV is so common that most sexually-active men and women will get at least one type of HPV at some point in their lives.
That means that a crapton of the people reading my story right now currently have HPV or have had HPV at some point in their lives, whether they know it or not. For many people, male and female, HPV is asymptomatic but for many, HPV is dangerous. For a “lucky” few, like me, HPV can be deadly.
Bryce (not his real name) and I went to Planned Parenthood together shortly after we found the bumps. He went into one exam room, me to another. He was prescribed a medication to treat his infection. I turned out to be a more complicated case. I had a large, very suspicious lesion on my cervix caused by HPV. I also had an external genital sore: HSV or Herpes Simplex Virus. Two viruses that like to hang out together. Aside from future occasional breakouts which could range from mild to debilitating, HSV was the least of my concerns. The nurse practitioner was stern and serious as she told me that I needed to be treated aggressively if I wanted to prevent this from developing in full-blown cancer. At 20 years old, I was facing hysterectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, infertility and death. One minute studying for finals and working at the mall; the next minute having to make some hardcore decisions about my future.
I would return to that Planned Parenthood time and time again for pap smears and medication over the next several years. I was in college on a full academic and financial scholarship. Mom was a single parent and could never afford health insurance for me while I was in school. Even the catastrophic plans offered by my university were out of my price range – and they wouldn’t have kicked in to cover this anyway. I was able to receive all the treatment I needed purely on a donation basis. Sometimes that was $25. Sometimes it was nothing. They didn’t even charge me if my checks bounced. I don’t know how much my treatment cost. Whether it was $1,000 or $1,000,000, it was money I didn’t have.
My feelings then were complicated about even darkening the door of Planned Parenthood. I was raised in a Christian home, taught that abortion was wrong and that venereal disease was for dirty no-account sinners, maybe redeemable by God’s grace but certain damaged, disgusting and undesirable. But I had literally no other options. The Student Health Center would subtract my medical bills from my piddly Financial Aid meant to pay for school. A “real” doctor probably wouldn’t even take me as a patient: an uninsured college student with no adult to co-sign for me. Then, as now, no church I know of gives benevolence funds for the treatment of STI’s.
As I underwent treatment, I graduated college, eventually finding full-time employment with a generous group plan that accepted my pre-existing condition and covered the final stages of my treatment. It was this same group plan that covered the Pap smears I had to have every three months for two years after; it was under this group plan I was later able to give birth to the first of three healthy children.
I understand the dismay and disgust so many have about the recent Planned Parenthood videos. They are upsetting and certainly worthy of investigation but nowadays, my feelings on the organization are no longer mixed.
Because of their low-to-no-cost STI treatment, I was able to prevent the cancer that could have and would have taken my life and my fertility. I was able to graduate college, get married, pay back my student loans and bring three little people into this world and become a successful entrepreneur.
Yes, wrong-doing should be investigated. (It has been, in fact.) But political grandstanding like the vote in congress to defund Planned Parenthood when federal funding is not, nor has it ever been, used for abortion, feels like an affront to the 20-year-old-college-student me. It says, “Your access to live-saving treatment doesn’t matter.”
The vitriol unleashed against a health care provider that walks alongside low-income women in what is often the most harrowing moment of their lives when others – including the church – don’t even want to discuss it and would never dream of offering assistance is a slap in the face.
Quite simply, Planned Parenthood exists because as a culture and a nation we have so vehemently divorced ourselves from the responsibility for women’s healthcare from the first period to menopause. As a people, we are loathe to even speak of sex education, access to contraception, sexual assault and issues of consent, prenatal care, poverty, violence, single parenthood, access to medical treatment, LGBTQ sexual health issues and the like. Yes, Planned Parenthood deals with messy, horrifying, shameful, embarrassing, painful and life-altering circumstances – often because no one else will. We create the dirty laundry, dump it on the floor like petulant teenagers, then despise them for picking it up and washing it. They are not above reproach but neither does a health care provider who has treated so many that the rest of the world would have turned away, deserve to be shut down carte blanche.
Would that we could live in a country where a woman’s cervix is not a political object; where simple medical treatment does not divide us but instead unites us in care in concern for one another.
I know many people see Planned Parenthood as an organization that does nothing but barter in death, but to me, Planned Parenthood meant life: my life and the lives of the three children my husband is currently yelling at about playing too much technology.
We count for something in this discussion and we are the people most likely to be hurt by this political grandstanding.