Friday, October 31, 2008

We Are Family

I am a reverend, and I am part of the Planned Parenthood family. I serve on the board of Planned Parenthood of Illinois. My wife and I are proud donors. With our daughter, we have lobbied, marched, spoken at press conferences, served as escorts, volunteered in the clinics, helped with fundraisers, and served on committees.

We do it all because we are committed to human freedom and dignity. We believe that in order to be fully free, women must be able to choose if, when, and with whom to have a child. Planned Parenthood is the champion of reproductive freedom.

We do it all because we believe that sex is a wonderful part of being human. Planned Parenthood provides the knowledge and services that we need, that our children and grandchildren need, to enjoy that gift.

The people who have stood outside the Aurora, Illinois, clinic almost every day since the doors opened 14 months ago, seem to believe in something very different. There is usually just a handful, though on special occasions the numbers swell to a dozen or more. Sometimes they are quiet and law-abiding. Sometimes they are vocal and abusive. Occasionally they overstep the boundaries — though careful to avoid actual arrest.

I am sad for them. They could accomplish so much with that much energy and commitment. I want to take them with me to the programs I work with that help survivors of domestic violence; or to places that shelter families that are homeless; or to the centers that provide early childhood education; or to recovery programs for ex-offenders. That is what it means to me to be “pro-life.” My message to the protesters: “Please, get out of the way of people simply exercising their legal right to medical care. Go out and do something that actually brings life to someone else.”

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Seeing Red

I’m in Pennsylvania now.

When I came to work Monday morning, I saw it — the front of the Reading health center, splashed with bright red paint. It was the color of fire and anger, and I have to admit, I felt pretty angry at first. Does that kind of vandalism do anything to improve women’s health? Does it prevent unintended pregnancy? Does it keep people from getting STIs? Or help prevent cervical or breast cancer?

Red is also the color of bravery and courage, strength and health. And when I realized that, my mood shifted. We do good, honorable work at Planned Parenthood, in the face of intimidation, vandalism, and violence. And if a red door makes us more visible to our community, then so be it. No matter what these anonymous, intolerant people do, we will here to help the women and men who come to us.

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Totally Unfazed

I’m in Yuma, AZ, now.

Typically we don’t have protesters here. I’ve been a clinic health assistant for a little more than six months, now. I’ve only seen one guy who comes by to pray, and I haven’t seen him since this whole thing started a couple weeks ago.

You know, we don’t even do abortions at this health center. That doesn’t keep them from putting their signs in our patients’ faces. They don’t really say anything to us. A couple of them have come inside and asked where they should be going or what they should be doing — as if we are organizing the vigil! We say, “Uh, we have nothing to do with that,” and send them back outside.

In the morning, at the beginning, there were maybe 10 or 15 people out there. And sometimes a bunch of people from a particular church will come. They’ll be there from 7AM until 7PM or so. There are fewer and fewer now, though.

Honestly, they don’t bother me. I really don’t think anything about it. I come in and I do my job. I come to work every day because I love my job. The whole staff, we get along, and we can put a smile on our faces every day no matter if there are people out there or not. We can just brush it off and be there for our patients -- because our patients are the ones that really matter.

Our patients are great, too. Three of them came in the other day and said, “We’ve got your back.” They love us, they love that we’re here and what we do. It’s true -- our patients really back us up, no matter what. And they stand up for themselves, too. We had a couple of clients that came and yelled back at the protesters: “It’s my choice. It’s a woman’s choice. You’ve got to respect where we’re coming from.” And one girl came by and donated $5 -- just because she was passing by and saw the protesters.

It’s funny, because we honestly thought we might have fewer people coming in because of the protests. But we’ve got more patients, more walk-ins. It’s like the protests are drawing attention our way.

In the end, it’s pretty simple — we’re here, we love our patients, they love us. That keeps us motivated.

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Remembering Dr. Slepian

Ten years ago today, Dr. Barnett Slepian, an ob/gyn who performed abortions in upstate New York, was making soup when he was shot and killed in his own home. His was one of two dozen murders or attempted murders of abortion providers at the end of the 20th century -- a deeply disturbing low-point of anti-abortion extremism.

A decade later, anti-abortion extremists are using other, more insidious tactics -- like intimidating women on their way to access safe and legal health care, or tricking women with so-called “crisis pregnancy centers”. Although most of the protesters during these 40 Days stints are not aggressive or violent, their presence reminds me of where we’ve been -- and where I hope we never go again.

Murder makes headlines -- and a mockery of the so-called “pro-life” label. The quiet, consistent chipping away at reproductive freedom operates well beneath the radar. It’s our job to fight against it, work around it, make sure that women who need health care and support can still get the services that they need.

When I think back to the death of Dr. Slepian, I think, too, of the brave women and men who went back to work at health care centers that provide abortion in the days after his murder, not knowing if or when they might be targeted, as well. And I think of all the brave women and men at Planned Parenthood health centers across the country, just like my own, who go to work every day, amid the shouting and the signs. We go to work to honor the work of people like Dr. Slepian, and to make sure that we never go back.

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Don’t Believe the Hype

I’m in Iowa now. I can’t help but notice the huge disconnect between what’s on TV and the Internet and what’s really going on outside of our health centers. If you believe what you read, you’d think that hundreds of protesters have flocked to Planned Parenthood centers across the state — but in a lot of ways, it’s just business as usual. It’s no different than a Thursday in June. I’m seeing the same protesters now as I did then.

All I can say to them is what we always say: If you want to reduce the number of abortions in the country, then work with us, not against us. Most of the work we do -- 98% in fact -- is prevention. But that message just falls on deaf ears.

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

All Those Voices Together

I’m in Nebraska now.

After just two weeks of protesters, the count has reached more than 350. It usually takes a full month for 300 protesters. They usually only come once or twice a week. It's amazing how quickly they add up when they come five to six days a week.

Today there were priests and mass intonations of the rosary. If the rosary were being prayed for some other purpose, I'd think, "How lovely that sounds -- all those voices together." But when they do it en masse outside the clinic, I worry about how intimidating the sound of all those voices at once can be. And I'm disappointed that a potentially beautiful prayer experience has been corrupted as a tool to frighten women.

Religion should be used as a way to lift people’s spirits. Unfortunately, these protesters use it to put people down.

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood

Friday, October 10, 2008

I Just Want to Say, “Thanks”

I’m in Idaho now.

Seeing protesters outside the clinic reminds me of the importance of my job. I work at Planned Parenthood because I believe in what we do for women, men, and teens everyday.

Because I’m surrounded by like-minded people at work and at home, it’s easy to forget how abortion and family planning are issues that fundamentally divide my community -- not to mention my country, especially now that it’s election time. The physical presence of protesters outside my window, the misinformation they shout through their bullhorns, their grotesque signs -- it all reminds me that I am morally obligated to do this work.

While I can’t know exactly what goes on in the minds of the protesters -- and thank goodness I don’t -- I can imagine how they feel about me, or what they think their protest means to me. I have heard them on the bullhorn, calling for me to come out of the clinic, that it isn’t too late for me to be forgiven for what I have done. They must picture me hanging my head in shame, worried that they might be right, that I am committing sin each day I come to work. They couldn’t be further from the truth.

When protesters show up outside my window, I am immediately invigorated. I hold my head higher. I pull my shoulders back. At their arrival, I am reminded of how important I am to Idaho women. I am reminded of how strong I am. My job requires that I never engage protesters in discussion. But if I were able to say something to our protesters, I would say, “Thank you.”

Thank you for giving me an energy boost.

Thank you for being a source of motivation.

Thank you for reminding me of the dangers of ignorance.

Thank you for rekindling my passion for what I do.

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood.

Is That the Best Use of Your Time?

Last time we had protesters here in Issaquah, I didn’t really mind having them across the street. They didn’t approach our patients or yell hateful epithets like so many protesters do outside other clinics. They smiled and waved. Their signs were not ugly or hateful. Mostly, they chatted on cell phones, read or napped.

In all, I figure more than 1,000 hours were wasted -- roughly half–a-dozen people, there for eight hours a day, for 27 days. I can think of quite a few other ways that those hours could have been better spent.

· raising money to help low-income, single parents
· providing childcare for those who can’t afford it
· snuggling babies born addicted to drugs
· spending time with kids that don’t have a loving, caring adult in their lives
· foster parenting
· adopting a child with special needs
· lobbying for health insurance for everybody
· taking a group of kids outside to learn about the environment and get exercise
· being a reading buddy at a local elementary school
· mentoring at-risk kids

And that’s just off the top of my head.

It takes real commitment and diligence to sit on the sidewalk for 27 days, rain or shine. Think of all we could accomplish if their efforts went toward something we can all agree on -- healthy kids, families, women, and teens.

In this all-too-important election season, when there is so much at stake with health care and women’s rights, to sit idly by is just a waste of everyone’s time.

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Winning Is Easy

I’m in Seattle, now.

The other day I made the trip up to Everett, about 25 miles north of here. We got a call in the morning -- a group of protesters had taken up positions on the sidewalk next to the Everett health center, carrying graphic posters and shouting at our patients and staff.

We couldn’t find volunteer escorts on such short notice, so another staff person and I stepped in. We arrived mid-morning, and donned the bright yellow vests and the large logo-emblazoned umbrellas that identified us as Planned Parenthood escorts.

It was a day of many emotions.

First, trepidation at the thought of facing people who want to dismantle everything for which Planned Parenthood stands. For the most part, the protesters try to disrupt the services at our health centers with their words and their presence, but in some states they have also been known to turn violent.

Then, a sense of purpose. When a patient arrived in our parking lot, we identified ourselves as Planned Parenthood staff and asked her if she wanted us to walk her to the entrance. Most of the women were quite grateful, but also confused. This was not a day when abortions were performed at the center, so the patients were there to get birth control or test results or other forms of basic reproductive health care. Can you imagine going to get your annual Pap test, only to be confronted by protesters?

Then, finally, victory. As we escorted patients to the door, we held the umbrellas sideways between us and the protesters and engaged in casual conversation with the patients. This way the women could ignore the shouts of the protesters and not have to see their gory posters. Our actions accomplish two things at once: the patients feel protected, and the protesters get frustrated.

In other words, we win.

Protesters: 7

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood.

Friday, October 3, 2008

They're back - and so am I!

Hello, world.

The anti-choice gang is at it again - 40 days of picketing, protesting, and proselytizing at Planned Parenthood health centers across the country. And here I am again to give you a glimpse of what life is like for the receptionists, nurses, doctors, and volunteers who, despite these obstacles, come to work every day, who make Planned Parenthood the amazing organization that it is.

Planned Parenthood operates more than 880 health centers throughout the country. Chances are you know of one. Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe we’ve helped you out. Maybe we’ve cleared a path so that you could come through a throng of protesters. Maybe we’ve given you a caring smile on one of the hardest days of your life. But you may not know what it’s like to work someplace where you have real enemies, where there are people who are fighting to shut you down.

So, I am inviting you to come be with me, to live life in my shoes for a moment

And I am inviting you to turn the anti-choice 40 days of protest into 40 days of fundraising, with our Pledge a Protester program. Your donations will help keep the clinic doors open for women, men, and teens in need.

This year, the 40-day protests end November 2; it’s no accident that Election Day is two days later. Planned Parenthood’s doors must – and will – stay open every day until Election Day and every day after. More than ever, the things we take for granted — that you can afford to get your birth control each month, or that your doctor will give you all your options when you come to him or her in need — are quietly slipping away. It’s an important time. And it’s not the time to sit idly by.

Last year we raised more than $50,000. Planned Parenthood would be nowhere without you. Listen to our stories. Help our cause.

I am Emily X.

I am Planned Parenthood.