Last month, Former Governor Terry Branstad joined Iowa legislators in eliminating funding for healthcare clinics that provide abortions. Soon after Planned Parenthood of the Heartland announced it would be closing four of its 12 clinics in Iowa, including sites in Keokuk and Burlington.
A young woman from Burlington, Alexandra Rucinski, was so outraged by the defunding she organized a protest march for June 4th titled “Sunday We Wear Pink.”
The day before the march a childhood friend called me. Let’s call her Mimi. Mimi and her husband are college-educated professionals who sent their kids to private schools, belong to a golf club, and are devoted to the Republican Party. Mimi and I haven’t talked much since the November election, and normally we agree not to discuss politics, but since she was bragging about going to Kim Reynolds’ inauguration I had to get in my two cents and tell her, “I’m marching for Planned Parenthood tomorrow. I’ve used that Burlington location more than once. It’s a big loss. Where will women go now for healthcare?”
“There’s private funding available,” she said.
“The clinic is closing, Mimi,” I replied. “There won’t be a clinic to fund.”
She shrugged off my comment, so I said, “I have to go. I’m dyeing my hair pink for the march.” That was the end of our call, and maybe our friendship.
Mimi is an example of the problem with politics and policies. She makes enough money to live in an affluent suburb, pay her kids’ college tuition, and purchase healthcare. She’s never relied on Planned Parenthood the way I have, the way over 14,000 other women in Iowa have. And unlike Alexandra Rucinski, whose ultra-religious parents failed to teach her about women’s biology or birth control, Mimi has never needed to seek information and counseling for an unplanned pregnancy.
Mimi cannot relate to the needs women have in my rural corner of Iowa. Women here don’t drive Cadillacs or Lexus SUVs. These women, many of them the sole providers for their households, barely make minimum wage—if they are lucky enough to have a job. They are moms, both married and single, with pre-existing conditions who would not have healthy children if not for Planned Parenthood’s care. And they are women like me whose sky-high insurance deductible prohibits getting an affordable annual exam anywhere but a subsidized clinic.
Mimi is Catholic, though I don’t believe she is adamantly pro-life. But she, along with so many well-heeled women and men like her, doesn’t seem to grasp the negative consequences of what happens when a woman is denied the choice of having a child—or not. Conservative Iowa legislators and their supporters like Mimi oppose abortion and the clinics that provide them, but where are these so-called Christians after the children of unwanted pregnancies are born? Forcing a woman to have a child born into dire, even dangerous circumstances and then not supporting her—well, that doesn’t seem very Christian.
I vented to my boyfriend, a liberal with a kind and generous spirit. He’s as frustrated as I am. “It’s like there’s a war on poor people,” he said. “Wealthy people can be as tight as a bull’s ass at fly time. They don’t believe in the concept that a rising tide lifts all boats.”
He added, “Closing Planned Parenthood clinics means people may end up at the E.R. Not only do women not get long-term care there, hospital costs go up. Even worse, women may forego health care altogether.”
For the march I wore a pink t-shirt that matched my pink hair and my most comfortable sandals. I joined more than 100 people gathered in front of the Planned Parenthood clinic on 8th Street. There were almost as many men as women. There were babies in strollers, toddlers in wagons, and young boys wearing shirts with slogans like “This is what a feminist looks like.” And there was Alexandra Rucinski’s five-year-old son in his batman baseball cap carrying a sign that read, “Planned Parenthood helped my mommy.” There was even a representative from Planned Parenthood’s Washington, D.C. headquarters who came to witness what this small but mighty group of Iowans would do.
What we did was walk in the 90-degree heat chanting things like “Our bodies, Our choice” as we wound our way down Snake Alley in polite formation. The march ended at the Mississippi River, where Ms. Rucinski stood beneath a Statue of Liberty replica and revealed just how much Planned Parenthood had helped her. If her experience wasn’t compelling enough to make you want to keep the doors of all Planned Parenthood clinics open, five more women took the pink megaphone to share their equally personal and emotional tales from endometriosis to IUDs to cancer. Each one felt Planned Parenthood had saved their life.
So where do we go from here? And how do I get friends like Mimi to understand the needs of others and show compassion for those with little or no money in their wallets? It starts with courageous women like Alexandra Rucinski. We need more women like her to share their stories. We need more people to reach into their hearts and their bank accounts to make up for our administration’s short-sightedness. And in the next election, we need to vote pro-women instead of pro-choice. Our female health and all its intricate plumbing depends on it.
(This essay originally appeared as a commentary on Tri States Public Radio.)