Anti-abortion — or anti-women's health?

There is a Planned Parenthood office in my neighborhood, and on most Saturday mornings a small group gathers outside and reads from the Bible and prays loud enough so that those in the passing cars can hear them.

They are there not just to spread God's word, I suspect, but to intimidate women seeking the health services inside that building, whether it be an abortion, a Pap smear or an inexpensive packet of birth control pills.


Though I respect their right to demonstrate and to preach, just the sight of them on Saturday mornings rankles me. That's because I came of age as a young woman at a time when it was illegal for me to use birth control because I was not married, and my outrage at that paternalism has never left me.

That is why I see any attempt in Congress to defund Planned Parenthood in the way that I do: Not just an attack on a woman's right to an abortion, but an attack on a woman's right to decide for herself what is best.


The fact that a handful of congressional ideologues would attempt to shut down the federal government — including interrupting the paychecks to servicemen in combat zones — so that they can defund Planned Parenthood feels like 1969 all over again: less like an attack on abortion than an attack on my right to self-determination. Less about a fetus' right to life than about my right to live a life unencumbered by the religious beliefs of someone else.

I hope no one I know or care for ever has to make an abortion decision. But my fury at the political leaders — most of them men — who would hijack her right to make that decision (a decision that continues to be legal) is profound.

Even if you do not believe that abortion should be legal, I am certain you agree that it should be safe — that a woman should not have to risk her health or her reproductive life because someone of a different ideology would close the safe venues for a legal medical procedure.

At a time when more hospitals, clinics and doctors are declining to perform abortions, Planned Parenthood continues to do so at some of its locations. But that is not all Planned Parenthood does, and defunding it —saving the government only a nickel when an ocean of coins is needed, I might add — impacts an abundance of other health services for women in need.

In addition to birth control advice, Planned Parenthood provides cancer screenings, tests for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, and other preventative care, and it serves not only poor women but women who live far from hospitals or other quality medical care.

I suspect that Planned Parenthood, like National Public Radio and other ideological budget targets, can survive without federal money. It might actually be better for being allowed to operate outside of such regular and divisive political theater.

Next Saturday, I expect to see the prayerful band of protesters again at the Planned Parenthood in my town.

I wonder if they are praying for an end to abortion, or just for the closing of a safe place for a woman to seek one.


Susan Reimer's column appears Mondays. Her email is