In the spring of my senior year of high school I was accepted to one of my dream schools, Davidson College, a liberal arts school with under 2,000 students nestled in the small, but beautiful town of Davidson, North Carolina. As I’d grown up just outside of D.C., this stark change in scenery came as a welcome change.
Unlike many of my peers, I knew before I even arrived on campus that I wanted to be a political science major. I had been interested in politics from a very young age, but it was my passion for reproductive rights that made me want to study politics more deeply. That passion stemmed from my first internship on Capitol Hill during the summer prior to my senior year of high school.
As I sat in the Hart Senate Office building one memorable day that summer, hoping for something to spice up an otherwise mundane day, my internship coordinator informed us that the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision was being announced in the Supreme Court—and we could wait on the steps outside and watch it all unfold. I will always remember waiting in the sticky July heat, joy washing over me, as “We Are the Champions” rang out over the cheering crowd when the Court ruled 5-3 in a significant victory for the pro-choice movement. As Beyonce’s “Run the World (Girls)” faded into the background behind me, I left the rally resolved to become involved in the fight to protect reproductive rights.
Yet when I got to college in the fall of 2017, I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t keep the promise I made to my seventeen-year-old self. Sure, I joined the campus’s Planned Parenthood email list, but I never attended a meeting. I gradually stopped listening to NPR every morning, which I’d started doing when I inherited my mom’s 2004 car and was too lazy to change the presets. Instead, I focused on politics solely through the lens of my major. I traded in my passion for advocacy, for a focus on my social and academic life. And then, just as my sophomore year was wrapping up, one news cycle in particular jolted me out of my complacency.
State after state passed laws attempting to circumvent Roe v. Wade. When I read the law passed in Alabama, which was a total ban on abortion, I broke down crying. It had been a lot easier to become complacent when I didn’t sense this type of urgent threat to my rights, but now that I saw what was possible, I knew I needed to pay closer attention. What I found is that privilege—I was raised in a liberal state, attend a progressive college, and don’t worry about my own access to reproductive care—had prevented me from seeing all that is, and has always been, at stake for many people in this country. Access to abortion and comprehensive, quality reproductive health care has never been a reality for many people, especially women of color and low income women.
Feeling like I needed to get back in the fight, I started reading—and quickly realized the problems extended far beyond “heartbeat bills” and even abortion. I learned more about the Hyde Amendment, which blocks low-income people from receiving abortion services through Medicaid, and about Title X, which was enacted in 1970 under Republican President Richard Nixon, and states that all people must be granted access to affordable family planning and reproductive services, regardless of where they live, how much money they have, or who their insurance provider is. Four million people currently depend on Title X for services including wellness exams, cervical and breast cancer screenings, birth control, contraception education, and testing and treatment for STDs—including HIV—which can be life-saving.
Troublingly, however, our current administration has threatened the financial security of many Title X clinics, enacting a gag rule that states that clinics cannot refer patients to abortion providers and removes a requirement for non-directive and comprehensive counseling on options, including abortion. It also requires physical and financial separation between the parts of an organization providing Title X services and the part providing abortions, which is impossible for many organizations to comply with.
The result of gag rules like this one is that patients, particularly low income people and people of color, as well as critical funding are driven towards religious anti-abortion groups that promote solutions like abstinence and the calendar method above other evidence-backed methods, like IUDs, condoms, or contraception pills.
As of August 19, 2019, Planned Parenthood, which serves 41 percent of people who rely on Title X, announced that it was withdrawing from Title X, choosing to turn down funds rather than comply with the gag rule, which the organization says would prevent their doctors from providing comprehensive and accurate medical information, deny options to patients, and cause deterioration of the patient-provider relationship.
In sharp contrast to the staggering rollbacks on reproductive rights on the national stage, my college’s Planned Parenthood group felt like a beacon of hope. Through a Planned Parenthood South Atlantic Grant, Davidson’s Planned Parenthood group was able to install a vending machine that offers Plan B Emergency Contraceptive for $18, a huge improvement over the $50 price tag at the local CVS. The vending machine had the added bonus of removing the university health center from the equation, which in addition to charging a slightly higher $25 for Plan B, is also closed during peak hours when the medication is needed, only administers to cisgendered students, and requires an awkward questionnaire following the purchase. The vending machine also provides other benefits for students’ reproductive health, offering various menstrual products, free condoms, free dental dams, and free lubrication.
This vending machine is just a small example of the incredible work that Planned Parenthood and many other Title X-funded clinics do at a much larger scale. The Atlantic has written that the biggest consequence of the Trump administration’s gag rule isn’t even abortion-related—it’s that low-income people won’t be able to access basic reproductive health care. I feel lucky to be a part of a college that takes the initiative on affordable family planning, but am aware that many people are not as fortunate as I am.
This summer, while working at Generation Progress, I realized that the reproductive landscape I am used to is not the norm. As Grace Colley, the lead of the Planned Parenthood vending machine project at Davidson points out, 90 percent of Davidson College students are very economically privileged—as a result, we do not have the constant worry about reproductive health care access that the 4 million people who rely on Title X clinics face every day. While this vending machine might not be directly affected if Title X were to be defunded, there are many people across America who depend on services from Title X clinics that do not have the luxury not to worry. In today’s climate especially, it is important to acknowledge our privilege, and understand how we can use our privilege to protect access to reproductive care for all. I hope that colleges like mine will continue to make strides on providing accessible reproductive care—not just for ourselves, but for everyone.
It’s easy to forget to look beyond our own bubbles, whether that’s our college, our workplace, or our region. While it took me some time to get involved in this fight again, I’m lucky that many people on my college campus never stopped fighting. For others who want to become involved, Grace Colley points out one of the best things we can do is to educate ourselves and become a resource to others. She also suggests that we support clinics who provide necessary Title X services by clinic-defending or being a legal server. Even posting on social media can help spread awareness and important information. The bottom line is that if you are passionate about something—don’t let yourself become complacent. Especially if your privilege is what’s keeping you from doing more.