A few months ago, I took a friend to Planned Parenthood to get an abortion. I had been to an appointment with her prior to that where she initially learned that she was pregnant. We talked about the options. It didn't take long for her to make her choice. At nineteen, she decided that she wasn't ready for a baby. Her partner agreed. He wasn't ready, either.
As we drove along the residential street to the clinic, I almost took a wrong turn into what I thought was the Planned Parenthood where we had our appointment. Turns out the building right before you reach the actual health clinic on 38th Avenue is the Lighthouse Women's Center. Big, car dealership-style banners line the property, proclaiming free ultrasounds and pregnancy tests. It was easy to see why I thought this was the health clinic where we had an appointment with a doctor. I felt as if I had almost been tricked.
We continued along to the actual clinic, where we were harassed by protesters before even entering the parking lot. It was something I had forgotten to warn my teenage friend about. Some people in this country think women shouldn't be allowed to make choices about our own bodies. But abortion is certainly legal. Confirming the legality of a procedure is funny thing to type out, because I can't think of any other time when it is necessary to prove that a routine health decision is not against the law — except for when it comes to this.
Once we arrived, two employees from Planned Parenthood approached our car wearing "escort" bibs and asked if we needed assistance into the clinic. Considering the protester ruckus going on just a few feet away, these women were calm and welcome. Once we made it inside safely for our appointment, there it was — a doctor's office waiting room. Just like any other doctor's appointment, we sat with strangers in a quiet space watching TV and reading magazines.
A few hours passed and everything went smoothly. We left the clinic, passing through the wall of harassers on the other side of the parking lot and went on our way. Over the next few days, my friend and I kept in touch via phone calls and texts. It was a routine I had been through many, many times before as I have been a friendly escort and support system for people close to me who have had abortions. It was also a service I had utilized in my own friends when I had an abortion at nineteen.
Much like my teenage friend, I was not ready to have a baby at that age. I was in a longterm relationship, had a steady, well-paying job and was in school. I didn't see a baby in my future. To this day, I know that having an abortion was one of the best choices I have ever made for myself. Sixteen years later, I am still grateful for the people around me who supported that decision.
Last Friday, as I began to see reports of the active shooter situation at the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, I immediately started thinking about my last trip to the health clinic. I thought about what it would have been like to be under siege in a doctor's office, terrified for your life while you're doing something as routine as waiting for an appointment. I was so mad and so angry. I was scared. I texted a friend who works for Planned Parenthood and she told me she was okay. Then I vigilantly watched Twitter for any updates.
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Later, it was revealed that one of the victims of the shooting, Jennifer Markovsky, died while simply being there for a loved one. She — like me, and so many other people — made a trip to Planned Parenthood to be a support system. She was a mother, too. She clearly knew the importance of having a safe and legal place to go when needing to make healthy decisions about our bodies. She died being there for someone in need.
I've never been one to stay quiet when it comes to standing up for what I believe in. However, this time something was different. The horror that these innocent people endured while taking advantage of Planned Parenthood's services that day scared me. It almost scared me into staying quiet. If someone can be killed for simply visiting a healthcare facility in America in 2015, where can we really feel safe?
But if I had stayed silent then the people who don't believe in affordable, accessible, non-judgmental healthcare would have won. If I didn't share my story, those who think I shouldn't have the right to body autonomy would be victorious. The folks who think that violence is an answer to disagreement would be the champions. But I will never let that happen. I refuse to be fearful. I refuse to be censored.
To all of my friends, family and acquaintances who work for Planned Parenthood and other health clinics like it, who utilize these healthcare services and who support the right to take care of our own bodies, please never stop. Your existence is crucial to this planet and your desires and needs as a human should be honored regardless of what backward-thinking terrorists believe is right for you. Only you know what is right for you. And if you need a friend to go with you to Planned Parenthood, I'm here.