Americans have battled over abortion for decades. But there’s something surreal about what’s happening now. It’s like waking up in “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
President Trump is trying to turn family planning — what most of us consider good for mothers, fathers, children, and families — into something bad, even shameful. He’s also trying to make abortion – part of women’s health care for 45 years – into an abomination so nasty that clinicians dare not speak its name.
At an antiabortion gala last Tuesday, Trump announced his vision: to cripple family planning clinics by denying federal money under Title X (given to us by Richard Nixon) to clinics that provide abortions or just refer patients for abortions elsewhere.
The president was clearly aiming at Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion and family-planning provider and an organization demonized by the so-called religious right.
It’s the place women, and men, have depended on for contraception, disease screening, and treatment when they had no money or insurance or were teenagers afraid to tell parents they were having sex. Less talked about are the well-insured professional women who keep going there because they prefer its personalized, nonjudgmental care to the assembly-line, often patronizing care of some private gynecologists.
One such woman is Moriah Silver, 31, a Needham attorney and Planned Parenthood patient for 15 years. “It’s at a different level, compassionate. They treat you as a whole person,” she says. The Planned Parenthood clinician who diagnosed her diabetes last year told her, “ ‘We’re going to figure this out together.’ It made me feel I wasn’t alone,” said Silver, “that this person really cared.”
If you visit Planned Parenthood’s Commonwealth Avenue office on a Saturday morning, you’ll see the years-old sidewalk standoff between clinic escorts guiding patients inside and antiabortion protesters trying to keep them out. Just inside the door you’ll see the metal detector needed because of threats and a murderous spree in 1994 at two Brookline clinics that killed two and wounded five.
But once you’re inside, Planned Parenthood’s offices feel calm and safe. Bright blues and reds, cushy chairs, bowls of free condoms, and HGTV featuring airy home renovations on a big screen in the waiting room.
You talk to Tiffany Corlin, 28, of Cambridge, about to start her internship as an ob-gyn. She came to Planned Parenthood, originally as a patient, for practical reasons: its extensive hours, including weekends, and a walk-in option when she needed care fast. She’s stayed because of the “welcoming vibe.”
You talk to Emma O’Brien, 28, of Hyde Park, a lesbian grateful both for Planned Parenthood’s emphasis on inclusion and for the diagnosis of a kidney disorder that had been missed elsewhere. She now volunteers, helping poor women and survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence find money for abortions or overnight stays here when they travel from other parts of the state that lack similar services.
Her paid job? O’Brien is a professional doula, supporting mothers giving birth, with everything from handing out ginger ale and saltines to help with newborn care.
These women grew up with Planned Parenthood as a trusted ally. Now, facing a president who’s convinced a wide swath of America that the blue sky is not actually blue, they’re worried.
“What makes this administration so dangerous,” says Jennifer Childs-Roshak, who leads Massachusetts Planned Parenthood League, “is that they’ve pushed back on a bunch of rights not just four or eight years, but back to before Richard Nixon. Really?”
Planned Parenthood is fighting back. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued. But nothing is certain. Moriah Silver says she never expected to hear “this messaging, that [Planned Parenthood] isn’t where you should go, that they aren’t good people, that people who go there aren’t good either. It’s an attack on my doctor, and on me.”Margery Eagan is cohost of WGBH’s “Boston Public Radio.”