Spending My Summer with Planned Parenthood

I feel that Planned Parenthood needs no introduction or history lesson. It is an amazing organization that provide safe, non judgemental and affordable healthcare for anyone who needs it. And yes, they provide abortions. Through this experience, I began to see Planned Parenthood and patients of Planned Parenthood through a different lens. As much as I knew I supported Planned Parenthood and the services they provided, I too had stigmas to work through. It wasn’t until my summer really took off that I realized we all had a little bit of stigma holding us back. And the power of storytelling to combat these stigmas is one that is unmatched by anything.

I knew I wanted to spend my summer doing something I actually I cared about, rather than going through the motions of busy work intern-like tasks. Although I did spend a few afternoons organizing closets, my job felt like so much more than that. At the beginning, I was tasked with creating patient testimonial videos for our social media and other platforms.

I saw it as an opportunity to do what I loved: video editing! I was also chosen to sit once a week at the Sanford, Maine health center and run the Health Center Advocacy Program. As exciting as this sounds, what it really meant was sitting in a quiet and poorly lit health center for seven hours hoping a patient was willing to share their story and support Planned Parenthood. Seems easy enough, right? In fact, Sanford was the only town in Maine that has a Planned Parenthood health center, and voted for President Trump. I will leave it at that. These days were long and I mostly saw it has a opportunity to finish my summer reading list. I never took it too seriously.

That’s when it all changed. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy retired on June 27th, 2018 leaving an open seat on SCOTUS, putting the extremely important Roe V. Wade up on the chopping block. As this news broke, all I could think was how this directly affected me. And it was suddenly my duty to make sure our rights to a safe and legal abortion were preserved. Suddenly nothing else mattered.

Phone banking and letter writing to Senator Susan Collins took top priority as she was a critical swing vote to oppose Trump’s nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh. But the politics and day-to-day tasks are not the point of this story. What became most important were the patients and the millions of people who were to be affected by this nomination. This is when the power of storytelling was never more present and important.

In early August I participated in a public letter drop-off at Senator Collins office, in which I, and a few others made a quick speech regarding  how a Supreme Court Justice such as Brett Kavanaugh would affect our lives. In my speech I wrote “as a young woman who relies on access to safe and legal abortion, birth control, and affordable healthcare, Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination is scary. The thought of not having access to safe and legal abortion is terrifying and unnerving.”

It felt very simple, and impersonal, and it was. What took time for me to realize is that what I said still mattered. What I wrote mattered. What each and every patient and supporter had shared about themselves with Senator Collins mattered. And, what every patient in Sanford, Maine shared with me mattered. I took those days for granted, not absorbing the weight behind each and every penstroke a patient took the time to make. On my last day, my supervisor applauded me on the good work I had done. I felt it was undeserved considering how many books I had had time to read. She said that she hoped I would never forget those days I sat discussing life and sharing thoughts and feelings in the Sanford health center waiting room. She told me I had given over 120 Sanford, Maine patients a voice that they would not have otherwise had.  A voice that no one had likely given them before.

We hugged, I almost cried, and she handed me a bracelet as a small parting gift. I took it without opening it and left before any more tears were shed. On the sidewalk, I looked at the bracelet for the first time. It read:

“Nevertheless, she persisted”