Originally written by Sara Benincasa for On The Issues Magazine; cross-posted with permission.
I’m a comedian, not a scientist or another type of professional smart person, so I have a limited understanding of that which occurs at the microscopic level inside my lady-parts. However, I did once have a job at Planned Parenthood Federation of America for six weeks, which taught me a few things about the goings-on in the general vicinity of my undercarriage. Plus, I like to read the lady-blogs to learn more about these issues.
And lest you think I’ve only exposed my tender brain to leftist influences, I was raised in the Roman Catholic Church, where a very serious lady showed me very serious photographs of very serious fetuses when I was a very serious (and vocally anti-abortion) 13-year-old. It is a fact that I once told my mother she was “slutty” for failing to wait until marriage to have sex with my dad (never mind the fact that he’s the only guy she’s ever been with in the Biblical sense.) And I once begged my mom to let me take the day off from school to travel with our parish (that’s a Catholic word that means “franchise”) to the March for Life in Washington, where I would walk in memory of the millions of murdered babies who had perished at the hands of selfish mothers and evil doctors. To her eternal credit, she said, “No. School is more important. You can do that when you’re a grown-up, if you want.”
What I’m trying to say is, I’ve been on both sides of the reproductive rights debate – the side that thinks reproduction is not a right or a decision but a God-given duty; and the side that thinks birth control and abortions ought to be available to whoever the hell wants ‘em, regardless of age (within reason) or reason (within reason). I’ve spent my entire adult life on the latter side of the issue.
But never was the difference between my old way of thinking and my new way of thinking thrown into such stark contrast as the first time I took emergency contraception. I was an adult, sure, but a scared one, and a college student to boot. My boyfriend and I looked in horror at the broken condom, and I ran into the bathroom to shower and pee, as if that would help (some experts say it does, some experts say it doesn’t. In conclusion, the jury’s still out on that one.) Then, because I am excellent in a crisis, I burst into tears and was nearly unable to dial the number for Planned Parenthood. Finally, I got the hang of it and steeled myself to speak on the phone.
“Hello, Planned Parenthood,” came the voice on the other end of the line.
“Hello!” I chirped pleasantly. My phone voice sounds a lot like my ordering-fast-food voice: unnaturally happy, freakishly high-pitched, and disgustingly sweet.
“How may I help you?” the woman asked.
“Um…” and here was the difficult part, when I had to voice my need, the need of which I was still, just a few years out of my Catholic indoctrination, pretty damn ashamed.
“How late are you open today?” I squeaked. It was a Saturday.
“Until 1 p.m.,” she said.
I looked at the clock. It was 12:55.
“Um,” I said, and gave up the hyper-friendly sorority girl act. “Okay. I know it’s supposed to be effective for up to 72 hours or longer, but I know the chance of it working right decreases the longer you wait, and I know you probably need to go home because you’ve got stuff to do today, but like, I was kind of hoping I could come in and, um, get emergency contraception.” I almost swallowed the final words, scared to say them aloud.
“When can you get here?” she asked, not at all meanly. I expected her to be mean, or at least incredibly displeased with me, but she wasn’t. She just sounded…normal.
“I can be there in 20 minutes,” I said.
“No worries,” she said. “I’ll stay open.”
“But don’t you have, you know, stuff to do?” I asked. “I mean, it’s a weekend.”
“That’s okay,” she said kindly. “I don’t mind. Just come on in.”
And I did. She and I were the only people in the building, and I was relieved not to run into any protesters in the parking lot. As soon as I saw her face to face, tears welled up in my eyes. I wiped them away as she walked me through the process and asked the questions I guess she was trained to ask. Finally, she asked me if I had any questions.
“Am I—is this – ” I stumbled over the words. Finally, I whispered, “Am I having an abortion?”
“No, sweetie,” she said. “You’re making sure that your body won’t release an egg or, if it already has, that it can’t implant.”
“Isn’t that an abortion?” I asked.
“No,” she said. “It sure isn’t.”
And while I knew there were hardliners who would disagree with her, including the woman who showed me fetuses and told me horror stories in church, those people weren’t there for me when I was scared and lonely and embarrassed. Planned Parenthood was, in the form of the woman who stayed at her job an hour later than necessary to talk a scared young woman through an incredibly safe medical experience. So I decided I’d throw in my lot with her and her tribe, maligned and hated though they might be.
I’ve been a Planned Parenthood supporter ever since.
Sara Benincasa is an internationally touring comedian, as well a s a writer, blogger and podcast host. The writer and star of the one-woman show Agorafabulous!, she has appeared throughout the media and was a citizen-journalist for the 2008 MTV Choose or Lose Street Team. Sara hosts the web series “Gettin’ Wet with Sara Benincasa” and the popular podcast “Sex and Other Human Activities.” Her new book — AGORAFABULOUS! — is an unpretentious, no-holds-barred, entertaining and relatable memoir. She lives in New York City. Visit www.sarabenincasa.com for more information on the author.