I retired almost one year ago after 32 years as the CEO of my local Planned Parenthood. Over Thanksgiving, many people reached out to say they were thinking of me and the Planned Parenthood community. Several asked whether I’m relieved not to be officially affiliated with the organization any more.
Relief is not one of the emotions I’m experiencing. I’m sad – and furious – that my friends are under attack. I am proud of my Planned Parenthood sisters and brothers who do an amazing job under tremendous pressure. And, as always, I am thankful for the leadership of Cecile Richards, our national president, and the affiliate CEOs – especially Vicki Cowart, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.
Violence like this is not new. On my first day of work at Planned Parenthood in October 1982, I went to the post office and picked up a big packet from the Planned Parenthood national office (remember, these were the days of snail mail). Included in the package was the latest update on the kidnapping of Dr. Hector Zevallos, an abortion provider in Granite City, Illinois. He and his wife had been kidnapped by the so-called Army of God. I remember thinking, “They didn’t mention this in my interview.”
Behind the headlines, I see a story about some of the issues around abortion and women’s health care in our country. I’ve been thinking about two things in particular:
An attack on Planned Parenthood is an attack on low income people and women of color. It’s worth noting that Jennifer Markovsky and Ke’Arre Stewart, the two “civilians” who died in Colorado Springs, were people of color, as are the majority of Planned Parenthood’s patients.
Rates of cervical cancer, sexually transmitted infections, unplanned pregnancy, abortion, and deaths from breast cancer are highest among women of color. These are the services that Planned Parenthood provides. Women of color are more likely to be poor and less likely to have health insurance than white women. These are the people served by Planned Parenthood. In fact, 1 in 5 American women has been a patient at a Planned Parenthood.
Most women who have abortions are already mothers. Both Stewart and Markovsky were also parents, just as 60% of women who have abortions are. That’s 6 out of every 10 women who have an abortion. One of the most common reasons women give for having abortions are that having another child would interfere with their ability to care for their existing children.
It’s not relief that I feel. It is awe.
I am awed by the courage of the patients who come to Planned Parenthood to make their lives better. Despite a culture of fear and shame, despite the opposition of their neighbors and churches, despite the picketers, they do what they need to to take care of themselves and their families.
I am awed by the commitment of Planned Parenthood staffers who get up every morning, determined not to let the threats and the need to be constantly vigilant interfere with providing every single patient with the compassion and respect they deserve.
As we say at Planned Parenthood, “Care more, judge less.”