Make no mistake about it: Planned Parenthood is under attack. With not even two months under its belt, the new Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed legislation that would eliminate federal funding, including Medicaid, for the organization, cutting off 48 percent of Planned Parenthood patients—approximately 1.4 million people, mostly women, mostly poor—from basic primary and preventative health care. You read that right: BASIC HEALTH CARE SERVICES. For sure, more than 90 percent of the services Planned Parenthood offers are preventive in nature, including contraception, family planning visits, annual medical exams, lifesaving screenings for cervical and breast cancer, testing and treatment for STIs and HIV, and in some health centers prenatal care. Only 3% of its services are abortions (which, the last time I checked, was still a LEGAL medical procedure).
Equally disgusting: Not even a week after the measure was passed, an anti-abortion/anti-Planned Parenthood group paid for and raised in New York’s SoHo a billboard proclaiming the most dangerous place for African Americans is “inside a womb.” Similar billboards were put up here in Georgia and LA not too long ago. Because, you know, that’s what we need: A bunch of conservatives legislating and passing judgment on OUR black wombs, even as they go out of their way to dismantle programs designed to HELP our brown babies.
I must say, I’ve been quite proud of the African American women and mothers who have taken to the internet to tell the truth about Planned Parenthood and especially to tell white male Republicans to stay out of black women’s wombs. Over on Colorlines, the ever brilliant Akiba Solomon, who pens the site’s Gender Matters blog, ran a video and transcription of Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), a black woman who put a human face on what it means to be young, pregnant, broke as hell and struggling to feed your baby after you fail to PLAN your PARENTHOOD. And over on DefendersOnline, Stacey Patton broke it all the way down when she surmised that the legislative and marketing attacks against Planned Parenthood are direct attacks against black women. “Why,” she said, “do they want to deny women the right to choose when they don’t give a genuine hoot about their children once they are born?”
The piece that touched my soul, though, was one I ran across on one of my favorite blogs, Black Girl In Maine. The author, who writes masterfully about the intersection of race, class, privilege, feminism and motherhood in the way only an intelligent African American woman can, shared her personal experience with Planned Parenthood to make a passionate case for protecting an institution that is so very important to so many women—women who look like you and me and Shay and our brown babies. She graciously agreed to share her essay here at MyBrownBaby. Show her—and Planned Parenthood—some love in the comments section.
By Shay Stewart-Bouley
My relationship to access to health care has always been tenuous at best. I got married and pregnant at 18; as you can imagine, I didn’t exactly have health insurance so I had to avail myself to Medicaid, which was interesting to say the least. Frankly, having Medicaid in my experiences has always been seen as a sign that you deserve lousy medical care; after all, you are poor and, well, poor bodies—especially poor brown bodies—apparently don’t deserve adequate and respectful care when it comes to their bodies. At least that is how most providers treat Medicaid recipients in my experience.
Yet since coming of age there has always been one place I can count on to get my annual exams, birth control, etc., where I know I will be treated well. That place is Planned Parenthood. I have used Planned Parenthood in different states and have always been treated well. Back in my 20s when I needed birth control yet lacked insurance, I could get birth control. When I thought I had a lump in my breast, I was seen in a timely fashion and treated with dignity.
I always find it interesting how many folks seem to only equate Planned Parenthood with abortions, which, yes they do provide and somehow only see them as providers of abortions, which is patently false. Yet even if that was all they provided, abortion is still a legal procedure and the reasons that women choose abortion are varied. Perhaps some women have been irresponsible, yet we also live in a time that demonizes women who have babies and then need assistance in the form of social services. Well hot damn, women are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. On the other hand, do we not believe in this country that people have the right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness? If that is the case, then don’t worry what others are doing with their bodies and specifically their wombs. It’s none of your business.
That said, until all women have access to good, affordable and respectful services, then we will continue to need places like Planned Parenthood. Call me a fool, but with states axing services that might mean even the meager services offered via Medicaid will no longer be available, we have all the more reason that women need access to places like Planned Parenthood. Then there are women who, for whatever reason, may not be completely broke but simply don’t have a health care provider for their gynecological needs. That pretty much sums up my current situation. I had a lovely midwife who delivered my daughter who decided to retire not long after I gave birth, so for the past several years I have been trying to find a health care provider I like and trust who I can also afford, since I am paying out of pocket. That pretty much means Planned Parenthood since it’s actually down the street from my office, affordable and I actually like them, which is more than I can say of a few providers I have had in recent years.
Maybe it’s because I am a Black woman and maybe it’s because my Mom died relatively early and started having health issues at approximately the same age I am now, but I take addressing my health needs very seriously. After all, the stats don’t exactly suggest that Black women in my age demographic are as healthy as they can be. Yet in order to be healthy, there has to be access to services—services that are culturally sensitive, which is another piece that I have always liked about Planned Parenthood.
Anyway this current issue hit close to home and I really felt the need to add my voice to chorus of voices rising up over this issue.
Shay Stewart-Bouley, M.Ed, is a Chicago native who’s lived in Maine for eight years. She created her blog, BlackGirlInMaine, to share what life is like in a rural, predominately-white state and connect with Black folks there. When Shay is not blogging or tweeting, she writes a monthly column on diversity for the Portland Phoenix and is the Executive Director of a faith-based community center that serves low-income families. Shay is the mom of a 5-year-old daughter and a 19-year-old son and has a beloved life partner known as the Spousal Unit.
Cross posted from My Brown Baby
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