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Your period was supposed to start last week. It’s late. It’s never late.

For a lot of young women, this is the beginning scene of the horror movie they hoped would never happen to them: a pregnancy scare. Every pregnancy scare is just as anxiety-inducing as the last, but when it’s your very first time, that’s a completely different story.

No one wants to face the walk of shame in CVS, clutching the pregnancy test behind your wallet and hoping no one in the store recognizes you. Not to mention that it always seems to be a male employee waiting for you at the cash register. Every. Single. Time.

Here’s the funny part: It shouldn’t be embarrassing! This outdated notion of being quiet about women’s reproductive health is harmful, and we perpetuate it when we feel shame for needing items that indicate that we’re sexually active. Regardless, this stigma is alive and well, and I am guilty myself of blushing when I’m at the checkout counter.

This is why Planned Parenthood is more important than ever. After years of teaching conservative methods of sex education (AKA: the abstinence approach), we have seen evidence that a comprehensive approach is what leads to safer sexual practices and less adolescent births. Regardless of the facts disproving the abstinence approach, there has been a surge in “Anti-Planned Parenthood” clinics.

These clinics, dubbed crisis pregnancy centers, are women’s health centers cloaked as Planned Parenthood clinics that offer free services for reproductive concerns. However, they juxtapose legitimate Planned Parenthood centers because, religious in nature, these centers aim to persuade women not to get an abortion or go on birth control. Before you ask: Yes, they are legal. And yes, I have had my own experience with one.

A couple of years ago, I realized my period was late. Panicked, I opted to drive to Planned Parenthood for a pregnancy test rather than avoid eye contact with everyone at CVS. This was the first time I’d be taking the test, and I trusted the medical professionals more than myself. I missed the turn for Planned Parenthood, but the facility right next door to it that I’d pulled into had a sign that said it offered free pregnancy tests and more. I shrugged and figured it was an extension of Planned Parenthood. Silly me.

As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by Bible scriptures on the walls of the waiting room. I remember thinking to myself, “This is oddly religious for a Planned Parenthood.” But having no prior knowledge that these “Anti-Planned Parenthoods” existed, I signed in and took a seat. On the paper, I addressed why I was there—a pregnancy test. I noticed there was an option for a consultation as well. I figured I should ask about birth control options, so I checked that off the list and waited.

After a few minutes, a staff member directed me to a bathroom to do my thing. After that, two older women followed up with me in a different room. I took a seat on the couch opposite them, and they immediately began grilling me on my sex life and why I needed to take a pregnancy test. Shocked, I explained that I’d used protection, but I felt it was necessary for my own peace of mind to just go ahead and follow up with a test. You can never be too careful.

They seemed to be disappointed in me for being sexually active in the first place. Questions began to come from left and right about what I would do if it turns out I had a positive test result. Would I drop out of college to raise my child? Was the man I was involved with “fit to be a father”? I told them I hadn’t really looked at him in that way. They told me that if I chose to have sex, then I should be looking at my partners in this way. While a part of me understood where they were coming from, I couldn’t help but think they were being awfully judgmental. Newsflash: People don’t just have sex to procreate.

Then, they pulled out a model of a fetus’ growth stages in the womb. They pointed out what the fetus looks like when it develops a heartbeat at week 5 and tried to deter me from the option of terminating any potential pregnancy.

Obviously, I knew I’d come to the wrong place.

This went on for about half an hour. The two women continued to comment on my lifestyle and encouraged an abstinent one to avoid these kinds of problems. At some point, I tuned out of the conversation and began to agree absent-mindedly so I could get out of there as soon as possible. When my negative test result came back, I breathed a sigh of relief and quickly dismissed myself, never to return again.

While this experience was embarrassing for me, it definitely opened my eyes to the dangers faced by Planned Parenthood facilities everywhere. The fact that these crisis pregnancy centers are planted right next door to Planned Parenthood clinics shows how determined they are to deceive women. The crisis pregnancy centers’ promise of “all options” counseling is misleading because it scorns upon abortion and emergency contraceptives.

The abstinence-only approach in education has had little success because it is unrealistic, lacks information and provides no sources that educate people on how to safely engage in sexual activities if they choose to do so. The curricula tends to overlap religion and science, thereby misrepresenting scientific facts to fulfill an agenda. It’s also harmful to sex culture overall by perpetuating toxic gender stereotypes.

The debate between pro-life and pro-choice is still alive and well today, 47 years after Roe v Wade. Though my beliefs differ from those at the clinic I visited, I respect a woman’s right to choose whatever she wishes to do with her body. Despite disagreement, every woman should have the right to bodily autonomy. No one, not even the government, should have a say in such a personal issue. Instead of burying this memory to avoid feelings of embarrassment, I’ve chosen to let it further strengthen the values I already had about reproductive justice.

If you are going to visit a women’s health center, be sure to do your research and evaluate what is right for you.

Alexis is a fourth-year journalism major with a minor in women's studies. Her ideal career would be one that incorporates her love for writing and her passion for social activism. For fun, she likes to read crime and romance novels, explore recommended podcasts, and binge watch New Girl. When she isn't curled up with a book or Netflix, she can usually be found enjoying the nature trails of Gainesville.
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