#4: The goodness of Planned Parenthood

I won’t forget my first trip to Planned Parenthood in Brooklyn NYC. It was for a routine check-up. I was surprised to find that I had to get past a guard to get in, show him my bags, and walk through a bleeping airport security-style machine. I thought it had to be a joke, but when I asked him about it, he pointed at a huddle of knives by the counter. That was my answer.

Planned Parenthood is in its own words “a trusted healthcare provider” which “has promoted a commonsense approach to women’s health and well-being” for more than 90 years. It’s a pretty amazing organization, headed up by a glamorous and inspiring woman, and it offers what in European countries what might seem pretty ordinary: basic affordable healthcare for women and men. But in the US, that’s an incredibly brave thing to do. Remember Dr. George Tiller? (Note: He didn’t actually work for PP).

I’m writing about it as part of my Best of NY series because US healthcare and insurance are enormously complex and expensive, and without Planned Parenthood, I’d have nowhere to go. Honestly, although easy access to these clinics is one of the goods of New York, the so-called healthcare system (industry?) is a massively, toxically bad aspect of life in the US, and this topic should really be on a worst of list.

It’s not only impecunious freelance writers who don’t have health insurance. I interned for a while at a prestigious media company which I cannot name because I signed a non-disclosure agreement. One day a colleague told me she was going to Planned Parenthood for a check-up. I was shocked, as I had assumed that health insurance would have come with her job, but she told me that because her part of the company wasn’t unionized, the employees had no real rights. They all worked as freelancers, even though they came in to work 360 days per year. The company had few obligations towards them, and certainly none regarding costly healthcare coverage.

My colleague was a beautiful, intelligent, married and highly educated young woman, and she said the experience of attending the New York clinic was much better than she’d expected. In the mid-west (or wherever she was from, all I remember is that it wasn’t NY or CA) she would have had to walk past protestors accusing her of being a murderer, just for going in the door. That was not too long before Tiller’s killing.

These days attacks against Planned Parenthood are ongoing, in a more-or-less non-violent form. Earlier this year a creepy but photogenic activist called Lila Rose arranged a sting in the Bronx, videoing a Planned Parenthood receptionist giving advice to a pimp and underage girl. The employee reported it to her boss as soon as the pair left, but, of course, that doesn’t feature in the film. And the right is making a vicious assault on the organization’s funding, framed as part of the budget cuts. According to Dan Savage (who writes the column Savage Love), “Indiana’s right-wing Republican governor signed a bill into law that strips Planned Parenthood in that state of federal funds.” This afternoon I got a message from Planned Parenthood in my inbox entitled “Not in New York” — “Today, a bill was introduced in the New York State Assembly that would defund Planned Parenthood.”

Happily, some of the attacks have a truly comedic value, as when a US senator, Jon Kyl, claimed that abortions made up 90% of procedures at the clinics. When it emerged that abortions comprise only 3% of Planned Parenthood’s activities, he said that his comment was “not intended to be a factual statement.”

So this is getting away a little from why I’m writing about Planned Parenthood. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve made a number of trips there for checkups — it’s been rather alarming to need them but luckily everything seems to be fine. All I can say is that my visits were fairly uneventful, and with an organization as embattled as this one, that’s probably a rather astonishing thing.

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