I’m a Virginia native—born in Richmond but raised in Roanoke, and currently a student at the College of William & Mary. I am also a Planned Parenthood patient and know from my personal experience that these health centers must be protected.
In the conservative suburbs of my hometown, my friends and I were often shamed and silenced about matters concerning our sexual and reproductive health. We did not receive comprehensive sex education, but were instead shown horrifying images of STIs and told that losing our virginity was like crumpling a crisp white sheet of paper.
Those of us who were queer? Forget about it. We had a hard-enough time starting a Gay-Straight Alliance that talking about LGBT-inclusive sex education seemed like a fairytale.
Planned Parenthood was a lifesaver for us. No question or concern was too small or too embarrassing at our local health center. We could access information and resources without stigma or shame. When we needed condoms or dental dams, they were there. When we needed birth control, they were there. When we needed STI testing, they were there. When a friend needed compassionate care after she was sexually assaulted, they were there. And yes, when we needed access to safe and legal abortion care, they were there.
Although I was a proud supporter of the movement for reproductive rights when I started college, I became a committed advocate and student leader because of my own abortion experience. I became pregnant the summer after my freshman year of college and knew I wanted an abortion. I had plans for the future, was living in a dorm room when I wasn’t at home with my parents, and had no way to raise a child… nor did I want to. I was fortunate to know about the Planned Parenthood in Roanoke from visits throughout high school, but scheduling an abortion procedure was much harder than I expected.
Since I was terrified of what my family would think, I kept my abortion a secret and had no financial support. I saved money from my summer waitressing job at IHOP and accessed assistance from Blue Ridge Abortion Fund through the National Network of Abortion Funds – their work is lifesaving. At that time, Virginia was in the thick of TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) restrictions that place medically unnecessary restrictions on abortion providers, clinics, and patients accessing care. This meant that I had to go through two separate appointments, mandatory counseling, and a compulsory ultrasound before I could access the simple, outpatient procedure that ended up taking fifteen minutes and was worlds smoother than the rest of the process. I felt exhausted and dehumanized, which is the goal for many TRAP-like restrictions. Anti-choice politicians attempt to restrict access by increasing the time, stigma, and shame surrounding abortion care. Thankfully, the clinic staff always treated me with compassion.
At my first appointment, in tears, I told the provider how frustrated I was with myself for missing a birth control dose. I told her I was queer and closeted from my family, that they didn’t know about the abortion, that all of this was so layered and overwhelming. She responded, “Honey – I’m not here to judge, I’m here to take care of you. You’re safe here.” And I was.
The day of the procedure, I was spit at while entering the clinic. As a clinic-escort in my spare time through W&M’s Planned Parenthood Generation Action chapter, I was used to the disgusting tactics of anti-choice protestors standing outside of clinics. I knew what to expect and prepared myself to be strong. Actually being strong, however, is a different story. I felt angry and alone; enraged that our state legislature emboldens people like the man who spit on me. Inside the clinic was a different story – a different world; I was treated with kindness and surrounded by providers who were constantly making sure I was informed and taken care of. In that moment, I was painfully aware of the misinformation the people outside were receiving and propagating about Planned Parenthood.
I left the clinic that day with a commitment to do this work, deciding I wanted to become a nurse-midwife and abortion provider. I quickly took leadership roles in W&M’s Planned Parenthood Generation Action chapter and served as Vice President my Sophomore year, and President my Junior year through my Senior year. I interned with Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia and will be doing my senior capstone through an internship with them. I told my story alongside Governor Terry McAuliffe as he vetoed HB 1090, a bill to defund PP in Virginia, at the Richmond health center. I organized 50 students to go to SCOTUS (Supreme Court of the United States) for the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt oral arguments. I’ve attended multiple lobby days at the Virginia House of Delegates. I served as the Curriculum Lead for the Virginia Youth Power Summit, where we trained more than 70 young people to be leaders in their community for reproductive rights and justice. I love this work and consider myself a dedicated part of the Planned Parenthood family.
Attacks on access to reproductive health care are attacks on people like me.
As a survivor of relational abuse and a queer young person who has had an abortion, I know how vital comprehensive, nonjudgmental reproductive health care is integral to the bodily autonomy and heath of all folks, but they especially catch those of us who are pushed to the margins.