The Margaret Sanger Planned Parenthood on Bleecker Street has a metal detector in its entrance. The guard posted behind the security booth window made me take all the objects out of my pockets and place them in a small plastic basket before I walked through. I handed him my backpack for inspection, retrieving it on the other side of the metal detector, which didn’t beep: I didn’t have a gun. But somebody might.
While retrieving my belongings, I sheepishly asked the guard whether anyone ever tried to bring “guns, or something like that” into the facility. He raised his eyebrows and snorted, “Of course—this is New York.” It was unclear whether he meant that people came with guns meant for the clinic, or guns meant for other people, but his unaffected demeanor seemed to indicate the latter, I guessed.
Just a few days before this appointment, there was a shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood. People died. People who had nothing to do with abortions or “baby parts” died. Since “this is New York,” as the Bleecker Street clinic guard reminded me with such blasé, I wasn’t sure what to expect. The procedure I was to undergo was supposed to be painful—perhaps extremely painful, if web forums are to be believed. I was scared and nervous, and wondered if I now had to fear for my life, too.
I was too on edge to ask the guard to clarify his answer. I had spent the entire hour-plus trip from Washington Heights to Bleecker Street rehearsing my defense against protesters and hecklers. Would I stand up for myself and the clinic? Would I get in a fight? Would anyone try to hurt me? By the time I reached the doors of the facility I was a taut ball of fear, nerves, anger, and anxiety—for risks and reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with my procedure.
IUDs (“Thanks Obama!”)
I had been sent to Planned Parenthood by my regular OB/GYN, a reputable doctor in a wealthy Westchester neighborhood. I needed an IUD, a 99% effective form of birth control that’s currently being promoted by the NYC Health department in subway ads. You’ve probably seen them; they’re colorful and trendy-looking and aimed at women who might forget to take birth control pills and thereby become pregnant.
IUDs (intrauterine devices) come in two flavors, hormonal and copper, and are non-surgically implanted in the uterus to prevent pregnancies for 5 and 12 years, respectively, though they can be removed at any time with no residual effects. They are popular among mothers who don’t want more children, and among young women like me who definitely don’t want kids any time soon and want the most effective, least expensive way to avoid abortions (what up, legislators!).
The Affordable Care Act mandates that my insurance company cover IUDs 100% with no copay (thanks Obama!). The catch: if my OB/GYN has to order one through the insurance company, instead of having one already in stock, I have to pay the full $700(!) up front. I could only hope to be reimbursed later, after submitting a claim, crossing my fingers, making many angry and demanding phone calls, performing various rain dances and implementing magic. (This is so far the most effective combination strategy I’ve found to make insurance companies pay what they owe or promise).
“Just go to Planned Parenthood”
“Just go to Planned Parenthood,” the elderly manager of my OB/GYN office had instructed me affably. “That’s what I always tell everyone.” She had called to break the news that my insurance company wouldn’t initially cover the IUD order. Her tone was both old-lady-confidential and flippantly unconcerned; I could almost hear her flicking her thin wrist with good humor through the phone. “We don’t do enough of them to keep them in stock but Planned Parenthood does. Just go get it done there and give us a call afterwards.”
The inside of the Planned Parenthood clinic was a welcome bubble of efficient compassion and gentle professionalism. Women of all ages and demographics came and went. Some wore soft smiles while others looked as nervous as I felt. I didn’t wait long to be seen and everyone along the way was kind to me. Nurses and receptionists were patient and knowledgeable. I forgot to bring my insurance card but the receptionist waved off the blunder, insisting “that’s fine,” as she handed back my paperwork.
My doctor talked me softly through the whole procedure and sat with me while I recovered, pale and sweating through my shirt, blood pressure too low to leave the office. She brought me crackers and very cold water to ease the nausea.
I walked back through the metal detector on my way out, this time setting off its alarms. There were now two police officers posted just outside the door. We made long, mutually suspicious eye contact before I noticed their full police van and then the Channel 7 news van on the opposite corner.
My heartrate doubled as I scanned the street for danger, jumping to an immediate yet plausible conclusion: “What’s going on? Was someone shot?”
Your Life or Your Health
Nobody was shot—at least in New York, at least this time. So what is the moral here? That Planned Parenthood is a dangerous place? Actually, yes, sort of.
The real moral is that I feared for my life for the very first time in New York goddamn City because my right to affordable healthcare is somehow a enough of a threat to lawmakers that they would rather allow misogynist maniacs to threaten and kill innocent women and their doctors, time and again, than protect us.
It is absolute madness that I had to walk through metal detectors and past police and guards who search through my belongings in order to receive basic health care that I cannot afford elsewhere.
It is an outrage that even these intrusive security measures are not enough, that the Colorado Springs facility had metal detectors as well and in the shooting’s aftermath people asked, accusatory, why there wasn’t an armed guard on duty. At a doctor’s office.
Unfortunately, I’m neither being dramatic nor exaggerating the danger. Colorado Springs was by no means an isolated incident. Ever since the so-called “sting” video about fetal organ donations was released last summer, Planned Parenthood has been experiencing a sharp upswing in threats. Two facilities have suffered arson. Comments under the video on Fox Nation include specific threats (“I’ll pay ten large to whomever kills Dr. Deborah Nucatola [the doctor in the video]”) in varying degrees of terrifying (“The CEO of StemExpress [Cate Dyer of a fetal tissue biomedical company] should be hung by the neck using piano wire and propped up on the lawn in front of the building with a note attached”) and personal (the same person went on to post Dyer’s home address and offer ten grand to anyone that could get to her house first).
Vicki Saporta, the president of the National Abortion Federation, has asked the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI to intervene before a “serious violent act” occurs—more “serious,” apparently, than a shooting. In Saporta’s 20 years at NAF, two abortion doctors have been murdered: one at home, and one at church. So you know she’s not playing when she says she’s “never seen such a volume, intensity and escalation of hate speech, threats and criminal activity.”
This shit is really real.
The Message Is Clear
Less than a week after the Planned Parenthood shooting and two days after the San Bernardino shooting, the Senate approved a bill that defunded Planned Parenthood after voting down two proposed gun control measures.
The combination is a slap in the face of everyone who was attacked in Colorado Springs, and every patient and doctor in every other Planned Parenthood clinic in the country. The right of lunatics to bear arms is apparently more important than the right of women to access healthcare safely.
Whether you like it or not, millions of women will continue to use Planned Parenthood clinics seeking affordable, expert, compassionate care. Because they need it. And if women’s health care has to be a life-or-death gamble—which seems to be the case—I guess we’ll just have to look out for each other.
We hear you loud and clear. Y’all don’t have our backs. Our lives are in our own hands.