One of the many things I’ve learned during my years at Planned Parenthood is that I take my job with me wherever I go. It’s not a punch-out-at-5:00 job, but one that defines me and has helped create me to be the woman I am.
A perfect example of this appeared several years ago when I was traveling to a bird research center deep in the Amazon basin. I met our guide for the week in a small port where my 3-day journey by motorized canoe began. She was twenty-one years old, born in the jungle and grew up learning about healing from her grandmother, the local midwife and healer. Spanish was her second language, German was her third and English was her fourth. Although she was not fluent in English and my Spanish is basic, we set out learning about each other’s lives with great gusto. Her dream in life was to be an OB/GYN. Since there was no opportunity for scholarships or loan programs in Peru at the time, this was a dream at best. I tried my best to explain my job as outreach educator.
At breakfast during the second day of our time together, I found her talking with great emotion with another guide. She was clearly very distressed, yet had to lead us on a hike through the jungle to a bird viewing tower. She asked if she could talk alone to me and proceeded to tell me that her dear friend had died the day before from an illegal abortion. She had advised her not to take a chance, but carry the pregnancy to term. She was shocked and amazed when I told her abortion was safe and legal in the US. Although legally Peru allows abortions in very restricted circumstances, in reality a safe, legal abortion is rarely done since they are not allowed to be performed in hospitals.
We went on to spend a fascinating week together, viewing hundreds of macaws, and hiking through the pristine rain forest where I learned about local plants that were the only medicine available to her during her childhood. And all throughout, once again, I was so very thankful to be born a woman in the United States.
When I see how cavalier some people are in the US concerning the rights to a safe legal abortion, I wish they could have been there to witness the story I heard or to speak with the volunteer I met. I wish they could have been there when I first started working for Planned Parenthood who had been an ER nurse when abortion was illegal, whospoke of the room where they placed women every weekend to die from infections or botched abortions. I wish they could have been there to meet the volunteer who was so impassioned to work with us because she was left sterile by an abortion she had as a teen when no safe option was available.