Years ago, at an atheist meeting, a Christian showed up, as was wont to happen every few months or so. I decided that I would take one for the team and fully engage him so that others could have the more nuanced conversations that drew most people to the meetings. Lucky for me (but not for him), his prepared topic of conversation for the time he had chosen to break bread with us baby-eaters was abortion.
He led not with a question, but with an assumption that we atheists tended to support reproductive rights. He wasn’t wrong (though of course there are some over-represented exceptions among atheists). I decided to ask him a question: “How many abortions have you prevented?”
My inquiry may have dumbfounded him for a while, but I was hardly exaggerating or lying. At the time, I was an unofficial guerrilla unwanted-pregnancy-preventer thanks to Planned Parenthood.
It all started during the summer between my first and second year of college. I had finally kissed for the first time and knew that I wanted to have sex, but wanted to be prepared. I had found out about Planned Parenthood’s services thanks to feminist-identified high school friends, though I had never thought that I would avail myself of them. Yet there I stood, barely eighteen, in front of a genteel set of offices in South Orange County, half an hour early for the appointment that I had made online. I inhaled, exhaled, checked my anxiety, and walked in.
The receptionist was pleasant and helpful. Although I had health insurance, I feared what would happen if my family found out that I was getting pap smears and birth control. Both the receptionist and the form not only seemed to expect circumstances like mine, the wording and frankness that they used suggested that they welcomed me rather than judged me. Due to my lack of usable insurance and income, I was able to apply for a special green California health care card that entitled me to free reproductive health services.
In about the time it took me to take a perfunctory flip through one of the magazines they had in the lobby, they were ready for me. I stripped down and put on the gown as instructed. The medical professional who did my pap and answered all my questions about birth control was gentle and kind. I was relaxed enough that the physical aspect of the exam was awkward rather than truly painful.
After the exam was complete and I had finished getting dressed, I was given what I had come in for: The Pill. I was also talked to about and given two other items. In the end, I walked away with a medium-sized brown paper bag. Inside it was three months’ worth of birth control, a handful of condoms, and two courses of Plan B. The nurse practitioner who had given me The Pill had convinced me to take some of that emergency contraceptive with me just in case I started having sex before I had been on The Pill long enough for safety, or in case of other circumstances.
The NP had also hinted, without quite saying it, that my Plan B might be useful for any friends I might have who had an emergency. This was in 2006, mind you, well before Plan B went generic. Because of it that, it was expensive, around $80 or so. It was also hard to obtain for teenagers since you had to be 18 in the state of California to get it over the counter at a pharmacy. I didn’t have any sexually active friends (or many friends at all), but younger people that I knew did. Those Plan B packets got used, but not by me.
The next time I went in, when they asked if I wanted Plan B, I said yes. When they asked me how many I wanted, I said as many as they could spare, please, which was three packets. Those were also put to good use, especially with some high schoolers I knew who had rather regressive ideas about condoms thanks to their douchebag older boyfriends who insisted on pulling out. They were also very resistant to the idea of being on birth control, citing parental disapproval and other factors. Ideally, some of these young women should have taken me up on my offer to drive them to Planned Parenthood to weigh their options. Realistically, my Plan B and I were able to save them from pregnancy.
Later, I did make friends, some of whom were sexually active. Word got around that I was a resource. I can’t count how many wee-hour phone calls I got. If my phone rang between around 1 AM and 5 AM, my mind, however drunk or sleepy, was already arranging for a pick-up or drop-off as soon as I saw the lit-up external display on my flip phone. When I heard the suppressed sob in the space between the words “It broke” or “He did it anyway”, I ensured that my voice conveyed reassurance as it calmly explained the logistics that I had already figured out.
In order to ensure a steady supply of the two-step emergency contraceptives, I made certain that I never got more than 3 or 6 months’ worth of my birth control at each visit, even though I could have easily gotten a years’ worth for my own convenience. Going in more often meant more time out of my life, but also that I could ask for more Plan B. The NPs knew what was going on but their implied approval meant that I was well-supplied.
The many Plan B packets given to me by the generous people at Planned Parenthood of Orange & San Bernardino Counties never expired when in my stash and always helped someone in need — except for the one that was in the backpack that I lost in the sex toy wars that I had with my family.
My career as the EC Avenger ended when Plan B both became available to minors in California and went generic. I also no longer knew people old enough to be having sex yet young enough to not have figured out a contingency plan for emergencies. I estimate that, over the course of about 4 years, I distributed at least 24 packets of Plan B. Additionally, I educated dozens and dozens of people about their birth control options. It was my first form of activism and I am beyond proud of it.
And that was why I was able to ask the Christian that question. I knew that I personally and directly prevented at least 20 potential pregnancies and indirectly, through education, prevented countless more. As for the Christian? After a bit of prodding, he admitted that he would rather people fail at abstinence and end up getting an abortion than be educated and ready for sex with birth control on deck. He called himself an “idealist” for preferring that people have unwanted children or abortions rather than be prepared by people like me in partnership with Planned Parenthood.
He left not long after I asked him who actually was against abortion, him or me, based on that logic.