Remember that scene in Mean Girls where Regina George sees Gretchen Weiners’ boy toy with another girl, then proceeds to call that girl’s mom pretending to be from Planned Parenthood, all in the name of revenge?
While I love Mean Girls as much as the next twenty-something, this scene probably had something to do with my initial negative perception of Planned Parenthood – and I have a feeling I’m not the only one. Not that I’m blaming the movie, but in general the media has largely cast Planned Parenthood in a not-so-positive light.
Well, society as a whole needs to get over this whole Planned Parenthood = bad stigma. Or even just the misconception that the only people that go to the clinic are either a) getting an abortion, or b) getting tested for STDs.
If you were to stop on the street and ask passers-by what they think of when they hear the words, ‘Planned Parenthood,’ how many of them would say ‘birth control’? What about ‘pap smear’? Or ‘breast exam’? Odds are, a majority of them wouldn’t name any of those.
For most of my life, if I were asked that question, my answer would definitely have been ‘abortion.’ Which isn’t all that bad, because the organization does offer abortion services. But it becomes a problem when people think that it’s the only service they offer and think badly of the organization as a whole because of it.
Truth is, only 3% of all Planned Parenthood health services are abortion-related.
What is the other 97% comprised of, you ask? Educational programs, for one. Planned Parenthood provides education and outreach to over 1.5 million young people and adults in the U.S. over the course of just one year. Their website is full of resources related to everything from body image to relationships to sexual orientation and gender. HIV tests, breast exams, Pap tests and birth control are among the other services they offer.
So why does this matter? Because I’m here to tell you that despite misconceptions about Planned Parenthood only being an abortion clinic, or having a negative perception in the media, it’s actually freakin’ awesome.
Before I graduated college, I was getting birth control through my school’s health services. After I graduated, I decided to go off the pill due to health reasons. But when I decided to revisit the birth-control thing a few months later, I was living in a city where I didn’t have a regular doctor yet. Alas, no birth control. What’s a twenty-something college grad to do? I consulted my gal pals, and the votes were in: Planned Parenthood was the move. So, I made an appointment after work one day and ducked into the Planned Parenthood near where I lived, hoping no one would see (because I thought maybe they’d think I was getting an abortion – which is so dumb and no one else’s business but yours.).
I knew I wanted to be back on birth control, but didn’t want to be on the pill. I was clueless as to what other forms of contraception there were. The nurse I met with talked me through each potential option and answered all of my questions (of which there were a lot). She thoroughly discussed the benefits and risks of each. She in no way pressured me to choose one on the spot, or even to choose one at all. I left with no birth control, but a ton of information.
Now, after a couple more visits to Planned Parenthood to make sure I made the right choice, I’ve been on the birth control implant for many months and I’m really happy with the option I chose. I feel like I can go to Planned Parenthood not just for birth control, but for any other sexual health problem or even just advice.
Right outside of the Planned Parenthood in Boston, groups regularly stand on the sidewalk handing out pamphlets or holding picket signs about how abortion is murder. To be completely honest, it makes me sad. And angry. And, admittedly, embarrassed to walk into what is, essentially, a doctor’s office. Yes, we have a right to free speech. Tell me about how abortion is murder, I don’t agree but I will respect your opinion. But no one should feel that the personal health choices they make are anyone else’s except theirs. And no girl (or guy!) should ever feel ashamed of going into a Planned Parenthood clinic. That was my biggest hurdle to get over, and I was just going in to get birth control. Once I realized I was doing the right thing for me by learning more about my birth control options, I strutted right past those protestors and proudly walked into the clinic.
Sexual health is a super important topic, and every college student should understand what resources are available. You shouldn’t be embarrassed to go on birth control, talk about sexual health, or take tests when you feel you need to – whether at Planned Parenthood or somewhere else. So put all preconceived notions aside, and do what you gotta do for your own health. People can say all they want about these topics, but ultimately it comes down to you and your choices.
If you want to learn more about Planned Parenthood’s mission, the types of contraceptives available, or even just about women’s health, I urge you to take a look around their website. You don’t have to go now, you don’t have to go ever – but know that it’s an awesome option.