Yesterday was disappointing for a lot of women, myself included. Yesterday, Susan G. Komen severed its ties with Planned Parenthood. And by ties, I mean funding. By ties, I mean one organization that was founded to support (primarily) women’s health backed away from another organization that supports (primarily) women’s health — and they did it because they allegedly folded to pressure from anti-choice lobbyists.
If you’re not familiar, Susan G. Komen for the Cure is a leading fundraiser for breast cancer research and awareness. The annual grant Planned Parenthood received from Komen was responsible for 170,000 breast cancer screenings and 6,400 mammogram referrals each year. And Planned Parenthood? One of the most prolific and just… goddamn important health care providers in the United States, one I’ve relied on for education and treatment more times than I can count over the past decade.
Years ago I wrote an essay about discovering that I had HPV, which I recently published with Gaby Dunn on 100 Interviews. And while my story isn’t or wasn’t unique (20 million Americans have a strain of it), there were a few paragraphs in particular I hoped would jar the reader like they’d jarred me.
It was 9 AM when I reached the corner of Bleecker and Mott. If you’re not familiar with these Manhattan streets, they’re what I’d begrudgingly describe as ‘trendy.’ They’re home to one of Planned Parenthood’s New York City clinics. They’re not the type of place you’d expect to be greeted by an anti-choice protestor, but there I was; there he was.
I approached the protestor because, with his proximity to the building, he was impossible to avoid. I stood on the corner finishing a cigarette. Despite the visibility of my headphones, he began to preach at me. “Don’t you care?” he said, gesticulating wildly at the sandwich board he was wearing. It was covered in photos of partial-birth abortions (which constitute about .02% of all abortions performed in America per year — mostly in an effort to save the mother’s life). “I’m sure they’re not breaking the law in there, and anyway, I’m not here to have an abortion. You should mind your own business,” I responded. I felt wildly inappropriate speaking to a ~70-year-old man like that. Imagine! Someone is finger-wagging me for showing up to an appointment concerning my health (MY health. MINE.) and I’m the one who feels inappropriate. Huh.
“You’re going to go to a place where they do this to babies?” he says. “Would you take your pet to a place where they do this to dogs?” “If my pet potentially had cancer and this was the only affordable option, yeah I’d say I would. You’re not going to convince me to walk away, you know.” This is turning into the longest smoke of my life. “You make me sick,” he says. “Cancer makes you sick, too, which I’m going to get screened for, asshole.”
We continue to sling mud at one another. I suggest that if he’d like me to go to another doctor, he should pay for my health insurance. Then he could order me around, tell me to go wherever and I’d consider it. “This isn’t my responsibility,” he tells me. “Right. It’s my health. It’s my responsibility. Which is why I don’t give a FLYING SH-T about you and your f-cking sandwich board.” At this point, a young girl approaches the door of the clinic; he begins to shout at her. “Ignore him,” I yell, “he’s insane.” I walk into the clinic with her, attempt to hide how shaken I am when she asks me, “Are you here to get an abortion?” “No.” I wanted to tell her all of the reasons why that didn’t matter, but I was late for my appointment.
The moral of the story is this: The average American woman has enough strikes against her when it comes to our befuddling health care system. We sit in crowded waiting rooms for hours; we struggle with insurance providers (if we have insurance at all); we battle strangers and our own conscience just to get a goddamn cancer screening. Just to be proactive. Just to do the things that Susan G. Komen for the Cure urges us to do.
And I mean, for what? To get berated? To be told that, because our best option for treatment and education also happens to be pro-choice, we should be punished? I’ve sat in rooms with these women, these Planned Parenthood patients, for hours. The best way to describe them is tired. The 30-year-old divorcee who lost her insurance when she lost her husband. The teenager who’s there to get birth control. The woman who might be pregnant — who hopes she’s pregnant! — and needs to see a doctor. And yeah, those of us who are there to get annuals, who are there to get a routine breast examination. We’re tired of the pomp and circumstance that comes along with taking responsibility for ourselves. We’re tired of being told we’re bad. We’re tired of organizations like Susan G. Komen insisting we take a proactive stance on our health and then backing away from us like we’re lepers because we can’t afford to sit in a polished private practice and get felt up by some blonde who graduated Duke and summers in Tahoe.
It’s discouraging. Susan G. Komen’s actions alienate such a great number of women that they might as well don that sandwich board themselves. Komen has decided to align with the anti-choice movement because they don’t want their money to aid in a legal procedure the clinics happen to offer. Fair enough, Planned Parenthood’s funding does go wherever it’s needed. It goes to contraceptives and pap smears and breast examinations and occasionally, abortions. It goes to STD treatment, pregnancy counseling, AIDS screenings. It follows that to pull away from Planned Parenthood is to pull away from women’s health — a premise Susan G. Komen was founded on, exists for. And while I support what they do, while my grandmother died of breast cancer, I can’t help but express what a disservice this is to their goal, to women. We don’t need more enemies.