by Lynn Harris
The Women’s March on Washington will send a bold message to our new administration on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights. We stand together, recognizing that defending the most marginalized among us is defending all of us.
― Women’s March ‘Mission & Vision’
In 1982, the world was very small. There was no Facebook, no Instagram, no Snapchat. No one “liked” or “followed” or “inboxed” me. We weren’t swiping right or left. My entire world was the 1600 person cliquey student body of Northgate High. Northgate was considered “privileged” in the way that only a public high school in a middle class neighborhood of Northern California could be in the days when there was still a middle class in this country. My world was cheerleaders and jocks, prom queens and nerds and feathered hair and Chemin De Fer jeans with a comb in the back pocket. Kids drove Trans Ams and listened to metal bands and went to football games on Friday nights. Parents belonged to country clubs where the wives played tennis and drank too much and the husbands played golf and pretended they weren’t cheating. The best of my world was a John Hughes movie fantasy. And the worst was an isolated, alcoholic, drug-addled visit to Charter Hospital. My world was very, very small.
I wasn’t a cheerleader. My hair didn’t feather. My mother didn’t approve of Chemin De Fer zip-around jeans or high-heeled Candies. I wore Topsiders, Levi 501s and my boyfriends’ Baja surfer hoodie, until he got me my own and we’d wear matching outfits to school. He was a stoner – stoned every day before school, every day at lunch, every day after school. He got high on rag weed grown in the hydroponic farm dug out from the crawl space beneath our friend DR’s suburban tract house. DR was the local dealer. He provided the pot. He provided the coke. He had a gun, which we only learned about the day after his parents found the pot farm under his bedroom and sent him to the local chapter of Charter Hospital, which is where nice suburban families sent their “troubled children.” I never smoked DR’s pot. Never liked it. Never liked any pot actually. But everyone assumed I was a stoner because my boyfriend was. Just like they assumed I wasn’t a virgin and wasn’t drug free.
In 1982 in the tiny, tiny world of Walnut Creek, there was little to do. Social life revolved around school sports, weekend parties, church and something called Campus Life which was a proselytizing Evangelical organization run by a few of the teachers and football coaches who talked to kids about Jesus and the sanctity of their virginity and the evil of drugs and alcohol. Kids would go to Campus Life meetings and listen and nod their heads and then peel out in their souped up hot rods to find the house where someone’s parents were out of town. They’d gather around a keg with a stack of joints and lines of coke. Couples would head off to empty bedrooms and nice Catholic girls would willingly please their nice Catholic boyfriends and everyone would confess on Sunday and be back at it on Monday.
I didn’t want to talk about Jesus, so I didn’t go to Campus Life. My 10th grade Psych teacher, who was also the football coach, driver’s ed teacher, AND the Campus Life leader kept me after school one day to ask why I didn’t attend Campus Life activities. I told him I was Jewish. He told me he felt in his heart that until I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and savior I would be an unhappy person. He kissed me on the top of my head and said he hoped to see me at the weekend pool party.
Still, I was able to find a group of friends who were sort of like me. My best friend wasn’t religious and her parents were divorced so she was anomalous in a different way. She was easier than me – knew how to blend, how to go along to get along. But we were besties and shared everything, including clothes and sometimes even boyfriends. Rounding out our group were two other girls more typical of the Walnut Creek standard. They were nice, smart girls from deeply religious families. They liked school. They liked boys. And they liked to party.
So it wasn’t terribly surprising, in hindsight, when first one and then the other ended up pregnant. We were not a generation who spoke to our parents about sex. We weren’t really a generation who spoke to our parents about anything. Our parents were busy living their own lives. My friends’ moms had lots of kids and demanding husbands to serve or they were busy working and keeping their marriages together. My mom was newly widowed, newly dating, and getting her degree so she could earn a living. It didn’t occur to me that she should spend any time doing anything other than what she was doing which was surviving as a single mom entering middle age. There was no way I was going to ask her about bras or periods or sex, much less drugs or alcohol.
I learned about tampons from Sarah Colbert who pulled an OB out of her sock in the girls’ bathroom in 6th grade. I had no idea what it was or where it went. Sarah was advanced. She had boobs. She wore saddle-butt Ditto jeans. And she had her period. She very matter-of-factly inserted the tiny cotton torpedo into her vagina between brunch recess and class. I was fascinated.
I developed slowly. I didn’t get my period until I was 14. And though my swim team Baja pullover boyfriend was desperate to get laid, I wouldn’t accommodate. I was 16. He was 18. And my legs were firmly glued shut. I mastered hand jobs and blowjobs and everything a girl had to do to satisfy a lusty teenage boyfriend without compromising her maidenhead. But I remained a virgin until the ripe age of 18. Not so much my active girlfriends. And since none of us had parents willing to discuss sex, much less birth control, a fair number of girls I went to high school with got pregnant sometime between 9th grade and graduation.
This is shocking to me now. As the parent of a 23-year-old girl and 17-year-old boy, I can’t imagine either of them accidentally pregnant or impregnating. My husband and I have discussed birth control with our kids for as long as I can remember. I knew when my daughter lost her virginity and made sure both kids were immunized with the HPV vac as soon as they could be. We talk about drinking and drugs and sex as openly and responsibly as parents and kids can. I assume there is stuff I don’t know. But I rest assured at night knowing that if either of them was ever in trouble, if any kind of accident ever happened, they know they could come to us for help.
In 1982, most girls I knew didn’t have that relationship with their parents or any adult. So when my friend Jane (not her real name) discovered, in the summer between our sophomore and junior year that she was pregnant, she came to me. Maybe because I was the Godless Jew and she felt I wouldn’t have judgment. Maybe because I was the most mature of my friends or the most stoic. Or maybe just because I had access to a car. Whatever the reason, she came to me in tears, asking me to keep her confidence and to take her to Planned Parenthood. She knew she would abort. Despite her deeply held Catholic beliefs, she understood that having a baby at sixteen would ruin her life. And she felt, whether right or wrong, that she could not go to either of her parents. She felt, in that moment, that they would disown her. Planned Parenthood was her safe haven, her light at the end of a dark and devastating tunnel.
And so I took her. Of course I did. I drove her and waited with her, first through the initial appointment and then for the actual procedure. I drove her there and I drove her home. I stayed in what I remember to be an antiseptic vanilla colored waiting room and sat with her in the car for what seemed like hours of tears and very few words. And though I didn’t realize it at the time, those two visits to Planned Parenthood, and subsequent visits with subsequent friends over the next two years of high school, instilled in me a deep gratitude for the safe haven provided by the discreet and gentle place that saved these girls from a life of unwanted teen pregnancy. Not every visit to that office was one of dire need. Some were for STD tests. We were still in the pre-AIDS era (or at least in the era where heterosexuals felt immune), but venereal diseases were rampant and fear is a powerful motivator. Most of my friends went for birth control. So when the time came for me to lose my virginity, which I did consciously and willingly, I went of my own accord to the only place I knew, to the place I felt safe, to the place I could access birth control discreetly. I went to Planned Parenthood.
It's different walking into Planned Parenthood by yourself for the first time, particularly if you’re there for yourself. You are crossing a threshold, walking directly toward adulthood. And the staff understands that. They understand the weight of the visit – whether it is for birth control, a health check up, pregnancy test, or abortion. Facts are doled out in a kind but responsible manner. There is no judgment. There are no lectures. But there is real counseling and real conversation about birth control options and the dangers of STDs. And there is real care. The doctors and nurses and volunteers are all there because they understand the weight of the decisions that each woman and man make as they enter that clinic. I understood, thirty-four years ago, the value of an organization like Planned Parenthood and the sanctity and service it provides. That service is challenged every year on a local and state level in states across this country. And now that service could be threatened at the federal level.
On the campaign trail and in the days following the election, Trump promised to both dismantle the Affordable Care Act and choose a Supreme Court candidate who is Anti-Choice, threatening to overturn Roe v Wade and reverting the issue of access to birth control and abortion to states’ rights. TRAP laws in 28 states already make access to safe, legal abortions difficult, in not impossible, for lower income women.
Here are the facts:
- Planned Parenthood serves nearly 2.5 million patients in the United States.
- Of the client services rendered each year, less than 3% are abortions. The rest are contraceptive services, men’s and women’s health care including pap smears, breast exams, HIV and other STD screening, and sex education.
- Over 40% of the funding for Planned Parenthood comes from government health service grants and reimbursements (Affordable Care Act & Medicaid).
- Most clients have incomes at or below poverty level and 80% are over the age of 20.
- The eradication of the Affordable Care Act means insurance companies would no longer be required to cover birth control with no copay and young adults under the age of 26 will no longer be guaranteed coverage on their parents’ plans.
There’s a lot to be upset about after the results of this election: the environment, women’s rights, civil rights, international relations with Russia, China, and on and on. With so much hanging in the balance, so much to be upset about and so much to demonstrate in protest of, I feel I can be most effective if I pick one thing. And for me, that one thing will always be women’s health care, specifically access to high quality, low cost health care related to reproductive rights, abortion rights, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and cancer screenings, birth control, and sex education.
On January 21st, thousands of woman will unite in Washington D.C. and stand together for our rights and the rights and safety of our children and fellow Americans. I will be there marching for Planned Parenthood and for reproductive rights and women’s health care. I’ll be there with my daughter, and my best friend, her daughter, and a group of powerful, engaged women. I will march for my high school girlfriends who needed the services of Planned Parenthood in 1982. I will march for my own first visit there in 1984. And I will march for the future of an organization that protects and provides health care for women of all socio-economic levels. Each of us must define for ourselves in what battle we chose to fight, what issues are most important to us, what rights we hold dear. To me, a woman’s right to choose, her ability to access proper healthcare, which includes information and birth control, is the battleground on which I will stand. And that is why I march.
Lynn Harris is a movie producer and weimaraner owner in Los Angeles, California. To learn more about her, read her interview.