Let’s talk about how we talk about Planned Parenthood

This is a difficult story for me to tell. Even as I’ve just begun writing it, my palms are clammy, my fingers shaking a bit as I type. Some stories are so delicate, so private that we clutch them tightly in balled-up fists, afraid to let go, afraid to open up. We’re afraid to let people see all the parts of ourselves because, quite honestly, keeping things hidden is easier.

I’m afraid of being misheard, of my words being misconstrued and misunderstood. Tone is such a difficult thing to convey over a screen, and too often feelings are hurt and people wounded because of a misinterpretation. Such is the danger, I suppose, of living transparently. I want to plead with you to be gentle with me. I want to ask you to refrain from harsh criticism or biting words though they may be your first, reactionary instinct. I want you to see that my heart aches for sacred spaces where our stories are welcomed and accepted and cherished, where we can feel like we belong, like there’s room for us and all that we are at the table. So. Here we are. Here we go.

I’m a Christian, and I went to Planned Parenthood.

(Now, allow me to explain, because I can see some of you with your jaws dropped, poised at your keyboards, ready to rebut and attack. I’m asking that for now, you simply listen.)

My 20’s were a pretty difficult season of my life. My first marriage ended when I was 25, and I went through a slew of really huge life changes in a really short amount of time. At one point, I was without full-time employment and, consequently, health insurance. There is a history of breast cancer in my family, so when I thought I had found a lump, I was terrified. I knew I couldn’t afford to go to the doctor, so I started looking into options. And Planned Parenthood was my best choice. Now as I said, I was a Christian, and for that reason, I was absolutely terrified going into the clinic. I actually prayed I wouldn’t see anyone that I knew from my church and the pro-life community I was involved with outside the clinic protesting, for fear of judgment and assumptions. Once I signed in, I met with a doctor, who gave me a manual exam. She then decided to refer me for a mammogram. (I was also given free STD testing to ease my worries, as I had just discovered my first husband’s affairs.) Though my visit was free, Planned Parenthood did not cover the cost of the mammogram, but they did put me in touch with a partner organization who would pay; I would just have to submit a bill. I walked out with the referral form, some various paperwork, and a heart that felt like it was beating in my throat.

Thankfully, everything I’d been tested and examined for came back negative, and I am extremely grateful to no longer be in a situation where I’m uninsured and my options are limited. So, why am I opening up and sharing such intimate details about my health, my story, my past with you?

Because for so long, I have felt ashamed. For so long, I have been scared to let anyone know about my experience. For so long, I have watched as the Christian community vilified Planned Parenthood, and that has made me feel like I have to hide this away like it’s a dark, dirty secret.

I am a Christian still, and additionally, I am pro-life–from womb to tomb, but also everything in between. The thought of women choosing abortion makes me weep.
But you know what else makes me weep? Women who feel like they have to hide their stories–whether they went in for birth control or a routine exam or yes, even an abortion–from a community of people who preach grace and love in the name of the Jesus they believe in.

This is where it gets messy, isn’t it? Because I pray for the ending of abortion, I do. I pray that life would reign. But still, every time I scroll through Facebook or Twitter and see a status about the Christian war against Planned Parenthood, I cringe a little. Because I feel excluded from that conversation. Because I feel like some are heaping shame on me for where I chose to get health care when I was young, scared, and faced with an impossible situation. Because I feel like I’m already judged or condemned in people’s minds for that fact. Because I’m not the only Christian woman who feels this way.

I want to create a culture of life that stands alongside of women, instead of making them feel shame.
I want to create a culture of life where there’s room to have these messy, uncomfortable, honest conversations, instead of women feeling they can’t speak up without being judged or attacked.
I want to create a culture of life where we’re mindful of our language, where our speech is seasoned with both grace and salt, where we speak the truth in love (Col. 4:6, Eph. 4:15).

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The thing is, all of this is just part of a deeper conversation, the one I’m actually interested in having here. This post isn’t really about Planned Parenthood; it’s about finding a way to stand up for what we believe in while also practicing inclusivity. It’s about making sure there’s room for everyone, that everyone’s voice is allowed to be heard. I will defend your right to talk about issues that you’re most passionate about, like the ending of abortion. just as I’ll defend mine to talk about issues I’m most passionate about, like racial inequality or systemic injustice. As believers, we are called to roll up our sleeves, dig in our heels, and get about the hard work of truth and holiness and life and love. So let’s do it! But let’s try to do it in a way that is honoring to both God and others.

And it’s hard, isn’t it? It’s hard not to exclude those whose stories differ from ours. It’s hard to choose our words carefully while staying true to what we stand for. Because we know that speaking our truth is going to make others uncomfortable at times. I get it; trust me, I do. But there is great danger in only hearing a single story, a one-sided narrative, and I believe that if the Church is going to really make a difference, then we need to do better. I need to do better. And honestly? I don’t know how to do any of this, except for prayerfully, mindfully, sloppily, courageously–no longer waiting for permission but always asking for forgiveness when it’s needed.

Here’s what I do know, friends. God is good. He is so, so good, and his love is so big and so expansive, and it conquers all. It conquers our thoughtless words, and it conquers our shame and our secrets. His love doesn’t disqualify or discount any of us. It doesn’t prohibit or prevent us from having our voices heard. There is always room at his table–abundant room, always more room, for any and all of us who long to sit with him a while.  

“So may there be grace and kindness, gentleness and love in our hearts, especially for the ones who we believe are profoundly wrong. The Good News is proclaimed when we love each other…Let’s pray for [others], forgive them where they have hurt us, and pray for those wounded in our collective cross fire. Let’s be gentle in our dealings with them, but then let’s get on with it” (Bessey, 2013, p. 5, emphasis mine).

Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons
References: Bessey, S. (2013).  Jesus Feminist. New York: Howard Books.

6 Comments
  • Emily Tomlinson
    March 8, 2017

    Thank you for this. I have spent my adult life being the voice of dissent in an extremely conservative, closed minded, many times judgmental Christian family. (In-laws) I’ve been on the receiving end of the shocked expressions and gasps of disbelief when I express support for planned parenthood or any number of people or institutions they deemed Anti-Christian. I have been asked “how can you be a Christian and support (insert group or person here)? My response is always love. We Christians are called to love. To be a shining example of God’s unfailing love for humanity. It’s hard to do that from our moral high horse. They will know we are Christians by our love. I’m so happy you didn’t let fear of judgement keep you from accessing health care. No one should have to make that choice.

    • Elena Delhagen
      March 8, 2017

      Thank you so much for sharing here. I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with criticism. (I also understand, believe me.) Someone recently told me that it takes courage to straddle the divide between two seemingly opposite worlds; I hope those words encourage you as much as they have me, as you continue to move forward in love. You are brave.

  • Fiona Lynne
    March 8, 2017

    You are brave and beautiful. Well done for having the courage to share your story, which is so important. xxx

    • Elena Delhagen
      March 8, 2017

      Your kindness, dear heart, means more to me than you could know. xo

  • Robin Lostetter
    March 10, 2017

    I have also used the services of Planned Parenthood – for health care and for birth control, as a young married woman below the poverty level. But I have had little trouble sharing that experience & my support for PP, since I am pro-choice (not pro-abortion).

    Where I find myself “straddling the divide between two seemingly opposite worlds” is my commitment to choice and to disability concerns. Neither group speaks with one voice, but the overwhelming position of those of us born with a disability is that abortion is our enemy. Unfortunately, I walked into that conflict (as I often do) unaware, since it hadn’t threatened to impact my world personally.

    So I thank you for your openness and your wisdom. Perhaps I can take this gentle approach as a model in my own crossover world.

    • Elena Delhagen
      March 12, 2017

      Robin, I so appreciate your thoughtful and honest insight. These are hard conversations to have, especially for those of us in the faith, and one thing I admire about you is how you don’t shy away from difficult conversations. Thank you for that, sister.

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