Hours after Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards squared off against the GOP in a five-hour House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing, dozens of Harvard students and community members gathered in Adams House to show their support for the reproductive health organization. The local event, part of a national “Pink Out Day,” aimed to send a clear message to conservative lawmakers that rolling back access to critical reproductive health care would not be tolerated.
Among the supporters was Planned Parenthood patient and activist Kanisha Hans. Sporting a bright shade of pink and an #IStandWithPP badge, Kanisha spoke candidly about her personal interactions with the organization and how she feels that conservative attacks on Planned Parenthood are “personal.”
Growing up with a different cultural background meant that Kanisha didn’t have an outlet to learn about sexual health. As high school approached, the topic of reproductive health was never broached. “There was no mention of sexuality, how or where to obtain birth control, or what was normal during puberty,” she said in a speech at the event. Because of this, she added, “I didn’t realize that it wasn’t normal to have periods so painful that I would pass out during class. I wasn’t told in health class that this might have been part of a larger problem, and my parents didn’t tell me what to expect during my period.”
After many visits to the school nurse, Kanisha did what any millennial would do: visit Google to find out more. It was through an online search that she first came across was Planned Parenthood. “I eventually reached out to a friend’s mother who drove me to Planned Parenthood, where I was given birth control for my symptoms. I’d never been to a place where I felt as though I had agency over my own body. … I felt empowered with information.”
Honest personal narratives like Kanisha’s were threaded throughout the evening. Some were tucked away into the end of sentences, in reference to accompanying a friend to Planned Parenthood for an abortion. Others held their stories in front of them, scrawling their experience on placards. One community member carried around a golf ball to illustrate the size of a cyst that she was diagnosed with at a Planned Parenthood clinic.
Recently, Planned Parenthood has come under fire by conservatives and anti-abortion groups following the release of a controversial video that purports to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing harvesting tissue from aborted fetuses for what the group says is scientific research (the group’s opponents say the video shows the officials discussing the sale of fetal tissue, which is illegal). Anti-abortion activists have repeatedly urged Republicans in Congress to defund Planned Parenthood, which receives $500 million annually in government funds.
2.7 million Americans receive reproductive health care from Planned Parenthood annually, and more than half of the organization’s health centers are in rural or medically underserved areas. For Kanisha, this illuminates one of the key issues that drives her reproductive justice activism: “Attacks on Planned Parenthood aren’t just attacks on birth control and abortion access, they’re attacks on people who rely on and need Planned Parenthood services the most.”
Image credits: Mattea Mrkusic and Camille Schmidt