Several years ago on successive Thursdays I congregated, along with other clergy and other supporters of their services, in front of Planned Parenthood. We were there to create awareness about the full service healthcare that the organization provides, healthcare under threat then—and even more aggressively now.
Planned Parenthood is grossly mis-portrayed as being an abortion mill. But that’s far from the truth. I was a client of Planned Parenthood for many years and never found anyone there talking to me about abortion.
What I did find was counseling and support about women’s reproductive systems and choices about how to be the best guardian of it. I was supplied with affordable birth control. I was given information on general healthcare, human anatomy, contraception and the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. Because of Planned Parenthood, I was equipped and informed to be conscientious about preventing pregnancy. And I was.
When my husband and I were planning our first child, that’s where I went: it was in a Planned Parenthood office that I shed tears of joy to find out that I was carrying the baby we were ready to conceive (okay, barely ready, but greatly desired).
That’s not to say that I didn’t know that you could get an abortion at Planned Parenthood. I did. But most of the women I knew who went there didn’t ever need them. Because that’s where they got their birth control and where they learned how best and most accurately to use it.
I did have one friend who had an abortion at Planned Parenthood. She hadn’t previously gone there for birth control supplies and education. After the abortion, of course, she did.
As Planned Parenthood lives under the threat of massive budget cuts, as we contemplate a Supreme Court justice ardently pro-life, it is more important than ever to distinguish between what it means to be pro-choice versus the notion of being pro-abortion.
Nobody is pro-abortion. That’s exactly the reason why Planned Parenthood’s services are as diversified as they are. Because access to birth control prevents abortions. Education around reproductive issues prevents abortion. Defusing a culture of shame around sexuality prevents abortion. Staunchly pro-choice supporters want to prevent abortion. “Safe, legal and rare” is the obvious—and attainable--goal.
If Brent Kavanaugh continues to sail through his confirmation hearings, many fear a return to back-street, coat-hanger abortions. That seems unlikely. I think there would be a de facto groundswell of medical personnel committed to ensuring the safety of beneath-the-radar abortions. But would the procedure be more difficult to access? Surely.
And the corollary question to Kavanaugh’s pro-life stance is: is he pro whole-life?
John Gehring, Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, a national network of justice-focused religious leaders, observes, "Don't forget that building a culture of life isn't only about one issue." Gehring hopes Kavanaugh will also support pro-life measures around poverty, inequality, climate change, racism, guns and treatment of immigrant families in detention. These wide-sweeping issues, too, are in line with Kavanaugh’s avowed Catholicism.
That’s where Planned Parenthood comes back into the game: abortion can only be prevented with wide-sweeping and thorough education and access to birth control, which has been the aim of the organization all along.
It doesn’t do to claim a pro-life stance and then deny life skills to those who need to learn them. It doesn’t do to rhapsodize about the sanctity of life while also restricting or eliminating access to those programs and services that actually do promote a reasonable standard and means of living.
As we gathered in support of Planned Parenthood on those Thursdays a couple of years ago, most cars honked their approval and gave the thumbs up. But one car in particular, full of young men, shouted “F*** you” as they cruised by. And a quick-witted supporter gave them a sunny smile and yelled back: “Not without our birth control!”
Not without our birth control, indeed.