On International Women’s Day 2017, Annica Palmer, a 35-year-old mother, has some strong words for the US president. Here's her powerful open letter.
Terrifying is the word. That’s how I feel about the world that I am currently raising my 17-year-old daughter in. And that’s how I felt when I was 17 and had just discovered I was five months pregnant. Terrified.
When you talk about healthcare – specifically women’s healthcare – being taken away from us, I am scared. We are not talking about a niche group here – women make up half the population. We feel targeted, vulnerable and terrified. I want my teenage daughter to grow up knowing that she has choices – choices that I didn’t have.
I found myself homeless at 17 after a dispute with my strictly religious family, so I quit high school and hitchhiked to the Pacific Coast with a guy I was in a relationship with. When I realised I was pregnant with no means to support myself, let alone a child, I reached out to a Christian organisation for help and guidance. They referred me to a crisis pregnancy centre – a small, clinical-looking office where staff wore white coats, it was deceptively branded to look like a reproductive health centre. But it quickly became clear that they didn’t offer healthcare, just anti-abortion and anti-birth control messages and materials. I walked in looking for support and instead I got told, ‘You don’t want to murder your baby, do you?’ I wasn’t allowed to ask any questions before they sent me away, congratulating me on my pregnancy.
I prayed for a miscarriage. Homeless, frightened and feeling like I had no options left, it seemed the only answer. But I didn’t miscarry. I slept on people’s couches and in shelters, living off food stamps. I was seven months pregnant before I realised I could get access to prenatal care and doctors. I had no grown ups around me, I was uninformed and after an arduous birth experience, I had no idea what the rest of my life had in store for me, only that I had no control over it.
The choice to have my daughter was taken from me. In fact, my experience with the crisis pregnancy centre damaged me so much that it took me years to get to the point where I could advocate for my own health and or that of my daughter. I didn’t realise this was something I was allowed to do. I was unable to make an informed decision, which spilled over into every aspect of my life.
Several years later, when I was in my early twenties, I learned about Planned Parenthood and went to their health centre in Washington for STD testing. It was eye-opening to me. They gave me information and treated me with respect. If I had known about Planned Parenthood back when I was 17, everything would have been different. I would have been told all of my options, including abortion. I would have been able to take ownership of my choice.
With dangerous cuts to funding organisations like Planned Parenthood and reversing women’s reproductive rights by decades, I am afraid that too many young girls growing up today will find themselves trapped in the same situation that I was. I eventually split from my daughter’s father and, somehow, I managed to find a part-time job and a small apartment for us. In short, we survived. But without Planned Parenthood, who has been giving men, women and young people the care and information they need to make their own decisions for 100 years, so many people won’t survive. Vulnerable people, young people, women living in poverty and those with a lack of sex education, women like me will feel as though they don’t matter. That their opinion on their bodies and their futures is unimportant.
My daughter is 17 now and it’s important that I talk to her about sex education and her health rights. I am proud of the strong, empowered young woman she has become. She and her friends talk about periods and track their periods on apps – I wouldn’t have dared discuss those things with my parents or sisters. But I want my daughter to know that she can – she has options, at least for now. I use Planned Parenthood to educate her – I took her to a sex education class where they discussed consent, speaking up for yourself, basic sex education. She’s going off to college next year and after researching her options for birth control, she chose an IUD.
There are a lot of ifs in my story – if I had gone to Planned Parenthood instead of where I ended up, I can’t say what I would have chosen, but I know that I would have owned that choice. That choice is not the ownership of politicians. It is my choice. It is my daughter’s choice. It is a woman’s choice.
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