Abortion. That was the furthest thing from my mind in the summer of 1994. I had just graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill and was soon to be off to a summer internship at the Detroit Free Press.
But I'd had a health scare in the spring of my senior year. A routine Pap smear at the school's student health services had come back abnormal.
"This doesn't mean you have cancer," the blue postcard read. Well, it didn't mean I didn't. A follow-up exam was recommended a few months later.
In the swirl of graduation prep, I didn't know what to do. I was no longer on my mom's health insurance, and worry was coming faster than the paycheck I'd yet to earn.
I landed in Detroit, stressed, broke and alone. A friend had mentioned that Planned Parenthood specialized in handling women's health care needs and wasn't terribly expensive. It was exactly what I needed. I thumbed through the phone book, found a clinic and made an appointment.
The care provider I saw was understanding and kind. She held my hand, talked to me reassuringly about my results and told me what to expect on a repeat exam. Though she asked if I had other concerns, she didn't push me to talk about contraception or even mention other legal services they provided, like abortion.
Yet if you listened to U.S. House members who voted recently to ban federal funding to the organization, you'd think Planned Parenthood only performs abortions.
Nothing could be further from the truth. That's the tragedy occurring in our political climate today. Hyperpartisanship and hyperbole are routinely trumping truth, balance and even common decency.
As the Senate moves to take up the same issue, let me infuse some truth into the debate: Abortions account for only 3 percent of Planned Parenthood's expenditures on services. Government grants accounted for 33 percent of Planned Parenthood's funding in 2008–2009.
If you are poor, a minority, live in a rural area, don't have insurance or a primary physician, Planned Parenthood fills a crucial gap. More than 90 percent of their services focus on providing cancer screenings, breast exams, annual pelvic and Pap exams, HIV and STD screenings and information, birth control services and more. And they price the services on a sliding scale so that the care is affordable and accessible to the women who need them.
While at the clinic in Detroit, I saw young and older women of all stripes sitting in the waiting room. Some looked anxious, like me. Others just seemed grateful to have somewhere to go for their health care needs. There were no nurses or giant posters pushing abortion services. And none of the ladies were talking cavalierly about abortion or getting rid of a perceived "nuisance" in their belly.
As for me, my results came back abnormal again. This time, thanks to the Planned Parenthood provider, I had a better understanding of what an abnormal Pap meant. I knew that the findings are common and really did not mean that I had cancer.
A Pap six months later at a Planned Parenthood in Raleigh gave me the all-clear. I saw the same cross-section of women in Raleigh that I'd seen in Detroit. They were treated with the same dignity, respect, confidentiality and care I receive from my own personal physician.
I continued seeing the providers at Planned Parenthood for more than a year—until my employer's health insurance kicked in and I found a private doctor whom I could afford and trust.
In the meantime, I was—and am—eternally grateful for the role Planned Parenthood played in my life, and the lives of so many others.