JACKSON, MI – Elizabeth Henderson was a teenager who couldn’t talk to her parents, not about this.
She went instead to Planned Parenthood, where she received birth control pills, condoms and her first Pap test, a cervical cancer screening.
The staff was kind and compassionate and did not look down on her for her inability to pay.
“They helped a scared 16-year-old girl make sure she doesn’t get pregnant,” Henderson, 29, said Saturday, Feb. 11.
She was among about 60 people gathered outside Planned Parenthood for a rally to show support for the agency in response to a national discussion about defunding the health care clinics, dedicated to reproductive sexual health services, education and advocacy.
They wore pink and waved signs along W. Michigan Avenue with phrases such as “keep your tiny hands off my human rights,” “thou shalt not mess with my rights,” and “keep your opinion out of my uterus.” Some of the passing motorists honked in support – or opposition.
Three others countered with anti-abortion messages. “Abortion kills a person,” read one woman’s sign. Another accused Planned Parenthood of racism.
Gary Short of Ypsilanti contends the clinics target the “desperation” of the inner cities with lucrative abortion services to “cash in” on hopelessness and despair.
“These are the cheerleaders of death and destruction,” he shouted at the Planned Parenthood supporters.
“Red, yellow, black, white, birth control is our right,” the supporters chanted in retort.
Pro-life, Short said he supports taking federal tax dollars from Planned Parenthood because it offers abortions at some health centers, excluding the Jackson site. He favors putting that money toward family health services, teaching abstinence and guarding children from being “overly influenced by sexuality.”
Planned Parenthood of Michigan does not receive federal funding for abortion services, states literature being distributed at the rally, one of many dueling events staged across the country.
“I think there is a lot of misinformation about abortion,” said organizer Terri McKinnon of Jackson, who works as an information technology system administrator for nonprofit groups.
The best way to prevent unplanned pregnancies is to make birth control accessible at a low cost and provide comprehensive sex education, McKinnon said. When this happens, there are fewer abortions because there are fewer unplanned pregnancies.
“I want them to have that choice,” she said of women and abortions. “But I don’t want them to have to make that choice.”
As she spoke, Short walked past her. “Hate kills innocent children,” he said.
Most of those gathered, however, shared McKinnon’s thoughts and beliefs.
Liz Harrington, 35, of Jackson learned from Planned Parenthood the importance of regular testing. She started going to the clinics when she was 19 and uninsured.
A few years later, a test revealed she had pre-cancer cells that had to be surgically removed. Without the tests, those cells might not have been detected at an early stage, seriously threatening her health.
Planned Parenthood is about more than abortions, she said.
More than 90 percent of its offerings in Jackson relate to well-woman, preventative care, birth control, treatment of sexually transmitted disease and breast health services. Most of the patients live below the poverty line and are uninsured or insured by government programs.
The providers are caring and respectful, never making a woman feel ashamed, said Harrington, spurred to activism by the election of President Donald Trump, who she opposed.
She participated last month in the nation-wide women’s protests the day after Trump’s inauguration.
“It really opened my eyes that voting is not enough,” said Harrington, standing in a pink T-shirt and fleece headband.
Other women shared her sentiment.
Henderson was incensed that recent rancor was such that it compelled the women to protest in the cold. “It doesn’t feel right to stand with signs and beg people to not shut us down.”
Planned Parenthood, she said, is a public service for people in need.
Though her approach to parenting is different than the methods of her mother and father, she would “absolutely” want her 5-year-old daughter to have access to Planned Parenthood’s offerings, she said.
Young people shouldn’t be made to feel as uncomfortable as she was.
“Boobs and vagina aren’t dirty words. You don’t have to feel like that.”