Toussaint column: Putting it on the line for reproductive rights
Last week, my husband Mason and I dropped by Planned Parenthood and placed a donation in Rebecca Binion’s hand.
Rebecca, who manages the clinic, seemed pleased both to get the check and to see Mason. He’s remembered fondly there. For a couple of years, he volunteered as an escort for Planned Parenthood’s patients.
Male clinic escorts are a bit rare, but Mason had braved jeering protesters before. When he retired in 2005, he took on two volunteer gigs: one as a cat socializer for the San Francisco SPCA and another defending Planned Parenthood there. The SPCA’s angry, frightened and feral cats were sometimes better behaved than the protesters who lined up to heckle, hassle and intimidate women arriving at the clinic.
These days, it’s quiet at the West Glenwood Mall. No protesters. (And unfortunately, not enough business at many of the stores.) But there are plenty of customers inside Planned Parenthood. The quiet on the mall’s south periphery masks a silent crisis in reproductive health care that stretches all across Colorado’s Western Slope.
Mason and I were astonished to learn that Glenwood’s Planned Parenthood not only treats patients from Vail, Montrose and Grand Junction, but also women from Utah and Wyoming. Although this week’s news has been about Alabama’s new law (banning abortion even in cases of rape), the political war on reproductive choice is taking a toll much closer to home.
In February, ProgressNow Colorado purchased a billboard along I-70 near the Utah border. It read, “Welcome to Colorado, where you can get a safe, legal abortion.” That billboard reflected a new reality: Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains reported that in 2018, more than 8 percent of its abortions were for out-of-state patients. As Republican lawmakers in Utah, Kansas, Wyoming, Nebraska, Texas and Oklahoma have passed laws imposing hurdles, yanking funding, limiting doctors’ education and forcing clinics to close, they have forced women into dangerous choices and long drives in search of reproductive health care.
But Glenwood’s Planned Parenthood clinic doesn’t provide just reproductive health care. It also provides breast and cervical cancer screenings. It tests for and treats sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) as well.
And there’s the rub.
STDs are skyrocketing. Colorado’s Department of Public Health & Environment has reported a steady, multi-year increase in STDs, including a nearly 200 percent jump in gonorrhea cases over the past five years. This spring, the CDC reported that U.S. syphilis, chlamydia and gonorrhea infection rates are up for the fourth year in a row. And all of this at a time when multiple STDs, particularly gonorrhea, have grown resistant to antibiotics.
Planned Parenthood’s national president, Dr. Leana Wen, has stated, “Today, the reality we live in is a terrifying one for women around the country. Access to abortion care is disappearing in states, forcing women to travel hundreds of miles for health care or to go without health care completely. Restrictions on abortion have already shuttered health centers and left people in entire regions of the country without access to reproductive health care services, including breast and cervical cancer screenings, birth control, abortion care, and STD and HIV testing. The politicians pushing these dangerous policies are directly interfering with medical practice and endangering women’s lives.”
As the onetime president of the San Francisco chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), I fielded desperate calls from women in trouble. I put my body on the line for clinic defense. At a Washington, D.C., rally, I had the sad pleasure of meeting June Barrett. She was wounded in a shooting at a Pensacola clinic — the same one in which Dr. John Bayard Britton was killed, along with June’s husband, volunteer clinic escort James H. Barrett.
Despite the blueing of Colorado’s electoral offices and despite a female majority in the state Senate, we should not consider reproductive choice — or even reproductive care providers — safe in this state.
In January, the Colorado House debated HB-1103, a bill that would have wholly banned abortion, making it a felony to perform one or cause the termination of a pregnancy. Proposed penalties included jail time and death.
That bill failed. But there will be more.
The Supreme Court’s pipeline now holds more than 20 legal cases that could challenge Roe v. Wade. And there will be more.
It has been just a few years since Garfield County’s (all male) commissioners cut a nearly $4,000 grant for Planned Parenthood, prompting my friend Ashley Johnson to rally locals and raise more than $25,000.
Mason and I were among the 280-plus donors.
We still donate. Considering the current political climate, writing my name on the signature line of that Planned Parenthood check may have been the most important thing I did last week. Not just for my Roaring Fork neighbors, but for women across state lines in every direction.
Nicolette Toussaint lives in Carbondale. Her column appears monthly.
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Intro: Brisa Chavez is lead educator and Hispanic engagement coordinator for Garfield County’s Public Health Services.