I am not nameless.
I am not faceless.
I am one in three American women.
I am no longer content to listen while others project their apprehensions, fears and misguided intentions onto a real choice I was forced to make. I reject anonymity and I defy the condemnation so many would have me endure. My situation is too common to be ignored, bumper-stickered or hushed conveniently as a private matter.
It’s time to get honest about the word “choice.”
$80 per month. That’s the cost of my birth control through the health insurance I pay for out of pocket. With two jobs, that’s relatively doable. After losing three jobs in less than a year, however, that $80 started to look like bread and potatoes and orange juice. I like bread and potatoes and orange juice.
I decided I’d chance the return of monthly migraines in order to eat. I remember clearly what it’s like to be hungry and, not being fond of it, I made a choice.
The circumstances surrounding my subsequent unplanned pregnancy aren’t interesting or unique. I thought I was being safe despite the lack of a birth control safety net. A few weeks later I was in my doctor’s office discussing my options.
While he does not personally terminate pregnancies, my doctor was exceedingly supportive, sympathetic, understanding and ultimately helpful in deciding between the medical and surgical procedures. He did not force me to view an unnecessary ultrasound or attempt to persuade me. He respected my decision and the overwhelming, wildly fluctuating emotions I was feeling. I know that makes me luckier than many women in my position.
With my specific medical history, my doctor recommended the surgical option. I agreed and made the choice that was right for me. I then called my insurance provider, BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois, to find out if they would cover this legal, out-patient procedure.
“Oh, no, darlin’…your plan doesn’t cover abortions of any kind,” said the customer service representative. I said I’d figured as much, but had wanted to call anyway. I mean, if they barely covered a portion of my birth control, what were the chances they would be any help now?
“Ya know, somethin’?” the rep said as I was about to hang up. “I take more calls about women’s health care than anything else.” She tisked and I could almost hear her shaking her head, arms crossed as she glared at her computer screen. “Seems they don’t cover hardly anything. In fact, the only plan that covers the termination of a pregnancy is the maternity plan.”
I nearly choked on my shock. “Wait, so unless a woman is shelling out hundreds of dollars a month for prohibitively expensive maternity coverage – presumably because she plans to become pregnant, BlueCross doesn’t cover elective abortion?”
We shared an uncomfortable half-laugh before she wished me well and apologized again on behalf of her employer that she couldn’t do more for me.
Thanks to Planned Parenthood, I did have a place to turn. As they assisted me through the hardest month of my life, I began to understand the catastrophe that is women’s health care in this country. Planned Parenthood relies on charity to fund 750,000 life-saving breast cancer exams every year. They have to fend off statements that “aren’t intended to be factual” to retain funding for pap smears and birth control.
These roadblocks have been deemed necessary because 3% of their services are comprised of a stigmatized legal procedure. And every day, despite the hurtles, the courageous staff and board members make a choice. In some places the doctors live as targets of wanted posters and crosshairs. In some places they’ve died standing up for my rights.
So I’ve made a new choice: to honor their sacrifice. Right now, I start seriously discussing the health of our nation and the direction our elected representatives seem determined to steer us. The discourse in this country is driven by shame and antiquated notions surrounding gender and sex. Even progressives in Congress and the media lack the tools and terminology to speak openly on a subject many of them care deeply about. I think it’s time that changed.
The backlash against the Susan G. Komen Foundation has awakened a silently complacent majority. People across the country stood up and screamed that women matter. I matter. You matter. Your sister, your best friend, your aunt. We all matter.
And we have demands: Education. Access. Affordability.
I plan to speak until I’m heard. I invite you to join me.
Wow. Voices supporting women’s rights have grown exponentially louder since this piece posted! It’s so amazing watching men speak out — some even calling themselves feminists and joining the fight — and women standing up to fight a stigma that encourages shame and fear. Abortion services are a basic part of women’s health; it’s a Constitutionally protected procedure; and it’s being legislated away by an extremist minority. Our silence is their power; when we speak, we deny them the ability to control the narrative and our choices.
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Categories: Finding My Voice