What Planned Parenthood means to my 92 year old grandmother

My grandmother came into this world in 1918, before American women had the vote. She has seen a lot of change over the years, and unlike some older people, she's not terribly nostalgic. There are good things she misses, but also bad things she's happily left behind. What's at the top of her "good riddance" list? The lack of reproductive rights for women.

Grandma was raised by a mother who did things women weren't supposed to, like smoking and driving. She was an athlete, loving every minute she could get of track, tennis and swimming. She would take the streetcar to downtown Cleveland to see vaudeville shows and movies. She had an enormous amount of freedom for a young girl.

Once she married her childhood sweetheart, however, that freedom disappeared. She had three children in four years. She loved her kids, but not being able to plan the number or timing of her children was hard on her. She's told me that once she was out with her three little girls, and a woman from Planned Parenthood approached her to talk. She really wanted to hear what the woman had to say, but as a "good Catholic" wouldn't talk to her.

Years later, things are different. You will not find a more passionate supporter of reproductive rights for women. I remember calling her from the 2004 March for Women's Lives on the National Mall so she could hear the crowd. My normally reserved grandmother sounded emotional. She wished she could be there with us all.

So after today's vote in the House to cut funds for Planned Parenthood programs that don't even include abortion, I don't look forward to telling her what's happening in Washington. My grandmother may be 92, but she's as clear as ever, and she's going to be angry.

But it's not too late to save the funding as the bill must go to the Senate. Join me in standing with Planned Parenthood. No woman in 2011 should have the same struggle my grandmother did back in World War II.

Update: My grandmother died last Thursday. Healthy to the end, she went quietly in her sleep. She'd been pleased to hear about this blog post and that it was my most popular, having been promoted online by the Detroit Free Press and by Planned Parenthood. I have added a new post about her: In memoriam: What my Midwestern housewife grandmother taught me about social justice. I'll miss her like crazy, but I'm so grateful to have had her in my life. -- Tracy, September 22, 2011

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    # by Lena - February 19, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    Good post. Planned Parenthood is definitely an important organization that provides much needed services to many women. I both pro-life and pro-choice -- I believe that women should *legally* have the choice, but I would never abort my own pregnancy (and I think that women should be completely education with FACTS, not propaganda from either side). BUT I don't think that PP should be legally allowed to suggest abortion to a woman who didn't bring it up by herself, or isn't in medical danger (to herself of the fetus). I have heard of multiple visits to Planned Parenthood (from friends' experiences, or through hearsay) that ended with a PP employee trying to convince women that pregnancy is unhealthy, dangerous, and should be terminated. Some of these women had been actively trying to conceive and only went to PP for reduced price pregnancy tests.

    The propaganda needs to stop. Pro-life, Pro-choice... how about Pro-Facts?

    Your grandmother sounds awesome, I'm so jealous that you can still talk to yours.

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    # by celtic-thistle - February 19, 2011 at 2:37 PM

    Lena: I do a lot of work with Planned Parenthood and that's not true at all. This image of PP as some sort of "abortion mill" is ridiculous. Even if you're looking at it from a business standpoint, PP would make more money on a woman who continued her pregnancy. An abortion would make them money once. Multiple pre-natal visits and screenings would make them more money. I really don't see on what level of reality you think there's this sinister movement to "encourage" women to have abortions. I think bringing it up as an option when a woman is pregnant is just fine. Women need to know all our options, and the sooner people like you, who think you're so helpful and open-minded but are really misinformed and deluded, stop treating abortion like some horrid tragedy that must never be thought about or suggested, the better.

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    # by Tracy Moavero - February 19, 2011 at 10:55 PM

    @Lena: Thanks for the compliment. I think a lot of people share your mix of feelings about abortion. As strongly pro-choice as I am, I myself find the issue emotionally complex. I was raised in a staunchly anti-choice household and Catholic school, so I have seen this issue from quite a few perspectives. We need more conversation that includes people in between the two staunch sides.

    I hear your concerns about Planned Parenthood, but I have always understood that it's not Planned Parenthood policy to push for abortions. Actually, many of their locations don't even offer the services. All the people I've known working for them or similar organizations take the concept of "choice" very much to heart, and have no interest in pushing people to have abortions. Quite a few of their staff have families of their own, so they understand what's at stake. But we've all had medical professionals we've liked and not liked, so I can imagine that some people have had negative experiences, just as I've had frustrating ones with medical professionals in other settings. My experiences as a Planned Parenthood patient were really positive, and they caught my high cholesterol when I was 21, when no other doctor had bothered to ask about my family's bad heart disease history.

    On another note, my grandmother is indeed awesome! I wish you still had yours to talk to as well.

    @celtic-thistle: I'm really disappointed in your response, and I encourage you to consider posting a 2nd one to clear up some problems. Lena raised some important concerns, ones many people have. She gave you an opportunity to address them, which you half did, but then you attacked her. What a shame, especially as you identify yourself as a Planned Parenthood staffperson. You've put a negative post onto the internet that doesn't reflect well on what I know to be a terrific organization. Lena said she is pro-choice, but that she mixed feeling about abortion, as do millions of people. Accepting the complex mix of emotions and ideas among even pro-choice people will get us further than demanding people all think and feel the same way.

    When I've talked with women who've had abortions, their experiences run from it having been a clear and straightforward choice to it being necessary but difficult. I've yet to talk to people who regret their decision, though obviously that does happen, as with any major decision in life. I've also known people who never, ever thought they would have an abortion or support someone in making that choice but who found themselves doing just that. So the person with mixed emotions or misinformation may be walking through your clinic door one day.

    When it comes to women's health, whether reproductive or otherwise, respect and compassion need to be our bedrock principles.

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    # by elisapiper - February 20, 2011 at 4:47 PM

    Thanks for this great story ... your thoughtful column is really heart-warming. I think the multi-generational experience is something we're often missing from this conversation, and it makes it easy to forget how difficult life was for women before birth control was readily accessible. We've just taken it for granted.

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    # by cuteordeath - April 8, 2011 at 4:35 PM

    Fantastic, concise post. I teared up a bit.

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    # by Jason Searcy - April 8, 2011 at 5:04 PM

    It's pretty funny to hear you talk about your grandmother's support of abortion. If ol' granny had her way maybe you wouldn't be here! Touching.

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    # by Tracy Moavero - June 15, 2011 at 3:07 AM

    Wasn't planning to respond to Jason Searcy's post, but in coming across it again, I thought I'd better.

    Jason: My grandmother wanted to control the number and timing of her kids, i.e. birth control. It was common to have 6-9 children then, which scared the wits out of her. She wanted some control over the most basic elements of her life, and, to put it bluntly, to be able to have sex without fear that it meant yet another baby.

    If she would have had only a few kids, I wouldn't be here, but that's true for all of us. There are a million "what ifs" in life, from what if your parents hadn't met to what if they'd decided to stop having kids before they got to you. As it is, you could have had more brothers and sisters, but your parents called it quits somewhere short of a Duggar clan, right?

    And please don't speak disrespectfully of my grandmother by calling her "ol' granny." I can't imagine you'd speak to her that way in person, so why do it here? Though if you did talk to her like that in person, she'd set you straight damn quick.

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    # by Kate - July 7, 2011 at 12:43 PM

    Here from the PP Carnival Central. Your post reminded me of my dearly-departed grandmother. She was a nurse, then she was a farm wife who raised five boys. We're Canadian, so our issues are different up here, but I can tell you my grandmother was OUTRAGED when Dr. Morgentaler was jailed for performing abortions. (In case you're unfamiliar with him, he's a Canadian doctor who is largely responsible for making abortion freely available and legal in Canada, and he continues good work in reproductive freedom to this day.) Grandma always believed passionately in women's rights to control what happened to and in their own bodies, and believed that a woman's reproductive decisions were between herself and her doctor.

    I think our grandmas would have gotten along well. :)

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    # by Tracy Moavero - July 7, 2011 at 4:30 PM

    Thanks, Kate! I think you're right that our grandmothers would have gotten along well. I think I heard a little about Dr. Mongentaler a long time ago. I just read a little on him, and his work is truly impressive. People like him or our grandmothers understand what's at stake now.

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    # by Carlmontpharmacy - June 6, 2012 at 4:32 AM

    Really nice article! things look different for old, I'm sure if I asked my father about this issue then he will give me the same answer as your grandmother..

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    # by Beats By Dre - January 23, 2013 at 9:28 PM

    Thanks, Kate! I think you're right that our grandmothers would have gotten along well. I think I heard a little about Dr. Mongentaler a long time ago. I just read a little on him, and his work is truly impressive. People like him or our grandmothers understand what's at stake now.