Friday, 27 July 2012

Swallow it down

Today I had my first experience of Planned Parenthood, the US version of the Family Planning Association. This organisation is even more important than that in the UK because they provide affordable contraceptive and other sexual health care for all American women, and no one is denied treatment on the basis of their insurance or lack thereof. In England, all contraceptives are free-of-charge (both a prescription and the medication itself), so while having a great body like the FPA to provide wide-reaching reproductive advice and care in Great Britain, it seems all the more necessary to have an organisation like that here, when not everyone can afford a regular doctor.

I will admit to being a little nervous of attending my appointment. I was lucky that my excellent UK doctor had prescribed me a year's worth of my pill just before I left for Charlotte (the usual procedure for any woman going travelling), so I had no need to seek contraceptive help until now. Back home, the fact that the pill (or the coil, or the injection, or the implant etc.) is free reflects the British attitude to contraception: it's a necessity, there's no shame in it, and while ethics and consequences of abortion are certainly taken very seriously, the idea that contraception is somehow not a basic right doesn't even come up. It's every person's right to decide what happens to their body, and this is demonstrated by the national health care system's approach here. Compare that to what I saw yesterday, when a group of people (I mostly observed men in their 40s and 50s) were protesting outside the entrance to a local hospital with giant photos of babies that had been 'saved' from abortion, and it's no wonder that I was a bit concerned.

Of course, I wasn't going to PP for an abortion. I don't think I could write about it if I were, and I'm not actually sure I could even go through with one if I did fall pregnant when we hadn't planned it. That goes for pre- and post-marriage. I've intuitively felt that way my whole life but, or rather, and, have made sure that I was always medically protected to prevent ever having to make that kind of decision. But that's my personal choice, and it has nothing to do with what anyone else's personal choice would be in the same situation, nor anyone else's beliefs about what I should do in that circumstance.

Regardless of what I feel I would psychologically and physically not be able to live with, I am fundamentally and vehemently pro-choice. Because to me, that is what pro-life really means: the choice about one's own life. The idea of 'personhood', of a blastocyst having more rights than the woman carrying it, that women should be forced to continue with a pregnancy that resulted from incest or rape, or a child being made to be born into a family that doesn't want him, is just alien and nonsensical to me. Ideally abortions would never be necessary, because all babies would be planned, born into loving, welcoming, prepared families, and rape and incest just wouldn't happen. But to say that therefore abortions shouldn't be made available because the world should be like that is the mental equivalent of sticking your fingers in your ears and yelling 'LALALALA!' until the complicated thoughts go away.

The fact of the matter is that a lot of babies are unplanned. A lot of babies are unwanted. Rape and incest, horrific as they are, do happen. And this is where another lack of logic hits me: some people here argue that contraception is a form of abortion; that preventing a baby from ever occurring is somehow aborting the potential child you could make were you having sex during the time that you might have been fertile enough to conceive. (You may need to read that sentence twice.)


That's like saying that if you cross the road and almost get hit by a bus, you should stay standing in the road until you get hit, because that was what could have happened at that moment. Like it was meant to be. It's also a massive presumption when you suggest that every time you have sex, you should be doing so to make a baby: as a married woman in her prime child-bearing years, I hate to tell you this, but that's not always how it works, even for a target demographic such as myself.

The huge contradictions I see in America (and sometimes in England too) are as follows:

  1. Young/unmarried people should not have sex.
  2. We will not teach young people about sex and sexual health.
  3. We will not provide contraception to unmarried people.
  4. We will not support a woman who gets pregnant outside of marriage.
  5. We will not allow abortion of an unplanned child/a child conceived through rape or incest.
This isn't the case everywhere, and clearly are not laws but rather a set of beliefs, but these are the kind of arguments I see and hear a lot more in the USA than I ever did back home. To me, it seems obvious what the consequences of this kind of thought process are:

  1. Young/unmarried people will have sex, no matter what, because they're people, and people are animals. Animals have and need to have sex. 
  2. If you do not teach about sexual health, the inevitable sex that the young/unmarried people are having will be far more risky in terms of STIs and unwanted pregnancies, not to mention the emotional well-being of these individuals and their ideas surrounding their sex lives. 
  3. If you do not provide contraception, or rather, provide the opportunity to obtain contraception, these young/unmarried people will still be having sex. Unprotected sex. See #2. 
  4. Men can't get pregnant. This is inherently sexist. 
  5. I don't understand how this can be morally right.
  6. Young/unmarried pregnant women have not really ever had a chance if the system of #1 - #4 is in place. Uneducated, unaware, and physically desirous people do not make good decisions about safe sex. 
  7. It is these beliefs/societal values that are increasing the chance of the need for abortions. Which do you hate more, the idea that people might be having sex out of wedlock, or the idea that more "children" will be "murdered"? 

It seems simple to me. It's a choice. Education provides greater choice, and admitting that - even with the best intentions when teaching about abstinence - people are going to be having sex isn't giving in to the idea that they should be. It's being realistic. Providing contraception options and information reduces the likelihood of the need for abortion. This is supported by the fact that Planned Parenthood prevent approximately 612,000 unplanned pregnancies, and 291,000 abortions annually. You can't stop people having sex, but you can help stop unwanted pregnancy. End of. 

I'm also not suggesting that people shouldn't be anti-abortion, or not protest these views. They just shouldn't be inflicted on individuals who make their own choices that contradict that view, should not be shoved in the faces of people visiting or working at the hospitals that perform such procedures (a giant baby photo? Really? Who the hell are you?!), and certainly should not be the basis for public policy. It scares me that political figures like Mitt Romney want to cut funding for Planned Parenthood, leaving even more women without adequate sexual health care. If you don't like abortion, don't have one. Each person's body is their own. The best you can do as a country is openly teach your young people how to look after theirs well. You don't get a say in what happens after that.

Back to my appointment, then! The building itself was a large, nondescript office style building, which I found out houses all kinds of different organisations as well as Planned Parenthood. I checked in with reception as you would any regular doctor, and then got handed a clipboard of questionnaires. Despite being a simple appointment (I just needed to find the US equivalent of my contraceptive pill, as I've been on the same one for over four years without any issues at all), I still had to fill out four of these very long forms, all about my general and sexual health, as well as answering questions about my relationship and history of violent or abusive relationships. Once I had completed those, a nurse took me into an examination room, asked me some more questions, checked my blood pressure, pulse, and weight, and then took me to the doctor's office to await her recommendation and prescription. As coincidence would have it, my doctor was a young woman going through the CR-1 visa process with the USCIS right now, so we had a good old chat about US immigration before even touching on contraception requirements! Long story short is that there is an identical pill here that I can take, and it's one of the cheapest ones on the market. Yay! So I paid $74 for my appointment and got a year's prescription for my pill, which I can pick up at a cost of $9 per month. Considering some pills cost between $30 and $50 a month, this is really, really good news!

All in all, my experience was very positive. I expected the Planned Parenthood environment to be friendly, non-judgmental, and supportive, but I was kind of nervous because of the views I've heard expressed through the media, and sometimes even within my own circle. I would definitely recommend PP for any expat needing sexual health care, both in terms of the high quality of service, and the cost. I guess I'll see them again next year!


  1. US attitudes to sex seem like they belong to another ages sometimes - like you've stepped back in time. Of course, there are liberal Americans (often living in the large coastal cities) but there are a helluva lot who it seems the social changes of the 1960s never happened (women's liberation, gay rights, etc). It's a big shock to a Brit, when you arrive! I was pretty shocked by the contraceptive situation too, I must admit!

  2. They do indeed. It's strange to think that a country that considers itself/is viewed as a leader of the modern world has such antiquated and prejudicial views on something as simple as sex.

    The people I hang around with are generally pretty liberal and are happy to live and let live (including those who don't agree with them, providing they don't infringe on their own personal freedoms - not always the case here, as a lot of people seem to think it is their right/duty to make others see things the same way they do and legislate accordingly), so I feel lucky to be around people with a more modern, equality-focused attitude. I am sometimes concerned that I live in a bit of a bubble, though, as so much of America seems so backwards and so angry about it all, too.

    It's nice to hear it's not just me! :)


Thanks for taking the time to write! I try to reply to everyone, and I love to read your comments.