Women fight for facts on heath care, family planning
Last updated 11/4/2016 at Noon
When the nurse left the room following a routine ultrasound of her 19-week-old pregnancy, Stephanie knew something was wrong. Having given birth once before, she knew the normal routine.
The doctor confirmed Stephanie’s worry when he came in and told her the fetus had Anencephaly, a condition in which a major portion of the brain fails to develop.
“He said, ‘You need to terminate this pregnancy. The baby can’t live,’” Stephanie recalled.
Stephanie was sharing her story this week with two other Mill Creek area women, Olivia and Amy, and Rep. Suzan DelBene, the 1st District congresswoman who has been meeting with area residents to discuss women’s access to health care and family planning.
By agreement, The Beacon is publishing the women’s first names only because of the sensitivity of the issues.
DelBene has been listening to women’s stories and working in Congress on legislation that increases women’s access to health care and protects their right to choose their health care options.
DelBene knows the many challenges, with public discussions and legislating tangled up with privacy rights on family planning, birth control, abortion, sex education and similar topics.
“Part of the answer is having these stories told,” DelBene said, “so that people are aware and know the challenges.”
Stephanie, Olivia and Amy are among those willing to share their sometimes painful stories.
Stephanie, who grew up poor in a conservative, Southern Baptist family in North Carolina, said she came to depend on Planned Parenthood for health care when she left home to attend college at Purdue, including cancer screenings and birth control.
“It was my first experience with health care,” she said. “When they started attacking Planned Parenthood, I said, ‘Wait a minute. This isn’t just about abortions. This is where I got my health care.’”
After she and her husband moved to Washington and received that dreadful news from the doctor, she was grateful they had access and could afford health care.
They were scared, of course. Because of Stephanie’s age and the all-but certain fact that the baby she was carrying would be born dead or would die quickly after birth, doctors strongly advised they terminate the pregnancy.
Fighting tears, she recounted their decision that, because they already had a child who needed her mother, carrying that baby to full term “was not worth the risk.”
They weren’t able to obtain an abortion at Providence in Everett because of its affiliation to the Catholic Church, and ended up going to Swedish where the medical staff was caring, helpful and understanding, Stephanie said.
Although she received much support, there was the inevitable backlash, too.
“I had friends on my (Facebook) page calling me a murderer,” she said.
Olivia likewise was raised in a conservative environment.
A Catholic, she said she first became aware of women’s health issues in high school and college when she and friends talked about how they weren’t able to have important discussions with their families.
In college, she started driving friends to a Planned Parenthood clinic so they could get the health care they otherwise couldn’t afford. She and her husband continue to advocate for those issues today.
“We’re sort of the rebels in our faith community,” Olivia said. Despite the fact that church leaders are supposed to avoid politics to protect their nonprofit status, they ignore the laws regularly, urging their flock to focus on one issue pro-life versus pro-choice.
Because she hasn’t hidden her stand on the question, Olivia has been told she should not take communion.
Amy has confronted yet another hurdle in the ongoing debate. She is the mother of a 14-year-old Down syndrome child.
As her daughter entered her teen years, Amy started taking steps to ensure she would have the facts and health care she needed.
“I’m trying to raise my daughter to not be a victim,” Amy said.
It may not surprise many women that her doctor didn’t see why Amy’s daughter would need access to birth control or the HPV vaccine, which protects women from a virus that can cause several kinds of cancer and that spreads between people through sex.
“The doctor thought because she has Down syndrome she didn’t need the vaccine,” Amy said.
In fact, however, research shows there are high incidences of sexual abuse and lack of health care access for people with disabilities, she said.
For example, women in wheelchairs often can’t get mammograms or pelvic exams because equipment isn’t designed to accommodate those disabilities.
Many schools that provide sex education programs for other students don’t extend those options to children in segregated classrooms, either, she said.
“I had no idea the challenges until my daughter became a teenager,” she said. “That’s absolutely unacceptable to me.”
The three women agree this year’s troubling election hasn’t helped bring clarification on the issues.
They’re angry that candidates like Donald Trump and other men who are ignorant of women’s issues make fiery and false statements that cloud the facts.
“A lot of people listen to their political leaders,” Olivia said. She was furious with Trump when, in the final debate, he falsely claimed “in the ninth month you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother, just prior to the birth of the baby.”
DelBene said she likewise faces fact-free and biased discussions in Congress, such as the time a select committee formed to study Planned Parenthood named its investigation “Planned Parenthood Exposed.”
Calling it “a witch hunt” that in the end found no wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood,” DelBene told the women, “That’s why your stories are so important.”
Asked what they hoped to see happen in Washington, D.C., the women said they want single-issue voters to understand it’s much larger than pro-choice versus pro-life.
“People should be fact-checked when they’re wrong,” Olivia said. “They should be called out for terrifying their constituents.”
Stephanie agreed. “Women’s lives are at risk,” she said. “It could be my life again. It could be my daughter’s life one day.
“It’s so partisan. They’re feeding on that false information to get people wound up.
“If we can’t start a discussion based on facts, on science, then how can we move forward on this?”