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Joan's Remarks Joan's Remarks

Remarks from the stage by Joan Wyatt, Co-Chair of the 2021 Annual Luncheon

Once again, here we are, with friends and colleagues to demonstrate our support of Planned Parenthood South Texas. Each year (well, except for 2020), we come together to hear about the high quality, affordable and essential healthcare, and sex education that Planned Parenthood provides.

Your support of this luncheon helps Planned Parenthood continue to offer these services, even in trying times. . . . And wouldn’t you agree, these ARE trying times? As my Co-Chair Katy Flato would say, these are hair-on-fire trying times — today, in this state and in this political environment. So, while it would be wonderful to talk about the other essential healthcare PP provides, today we need to speak directly about the 3.4% of total services Planned Parenthood offers: abortion.

I am an ardent supporter of PP, for ALL of the services it provides to its clients — primarily patients with low incomes. And also because Planned Parenthood was there for me when I was a teenager and young adult.

It was 1979 and I was in high school in New Jersey. My responsible and good friend and I walked to the Planned Parenthood clinic to learn more about birth control options. I have no idea how we knew Planned Parenthood would be a good resource, but we knew exactly where its closest clinic was located. It was on a major street we traveled all the time. It was not hidden to avoid threatening protesters or to fly under the radar. PP’s clinic was loud and proud at the intersection of Tinton Falls Road and Broad Street, right next to the Dunkin’ Donuts. I will never forget the non-judgmental care I received and the excellent information I got about my birth control options.

I turned to Planned Parenthood, because my wonderful, loving and amazing mom, whom I miss terribly, was a product of her generation and religion. We were not able to have conversations about sex and birth control when I was young and in need of information and education. We were not unique then; regrettably, our story is not unique today.

PP helped me select the right form of birth control for me, which I used, dutifully, until my mom found it — and took it away from me. We never spoke of it. She couldn’t find a way to tell me why, and I couldn’t find a way to ask her. In hindsight, as a parent, I understand her legitimate concerns and questions about my choices. But they went unvoiced and unheard — undiscussed. Why was that? Because my sweet mom was restrained by shame and secrecy around sexuality, as was, and is, so often the case. It was taboo. My mom’s unspoken message was clear: Good girls don’t have sex before marriage and you’re not old enough to have birth control. Your choice is not okay. In other words, you do not have sovereignty over your own body.

A number of years later, in my early 20s, and at a painful and difficult time in my life, I had an abortion. And while this fact is not easy for me to share with you, not only am I without regret and shame about my choice, I am grateful. Grateful to have had access to safe and legal abortion care at a time when I was grossly unprepared to nurture a healthy pregnancy or become a parent. I trusted my decision implicitly.

And because of my lived experience, by extension, I trust ALL women implicitly to make the best reproductive healthcare choices for themselves, whatever those choices may be. I believe in their sovereignty over their own bodies.

Something I cannot say for the — I’m sorry, but this is accurate — the overwhelmingly male Texas officials who authored, voted for and signed SB 8. How many girls and women in Texas have been denied their sovereignty and deprived of their constitutional right to abortion health care since this cruel and dystopian law went into effect September 1st? I shudder to think what is happening to them, their dreams and their futures.

Women like me, and many of you — our friends, sisters, daughters and nieces, who have access to resources — will always be able to obtain safe and legal abortion care. We will take time off from work — if we work, or away from school, and travel to another state or even another country.

Under this new law, right now, as we speak, women in Texas, with unwanted pregnancies — and without resources — have far, far less access to safe abortion care.

Let’s be clear: making abortion illegal does NOT make abortion go away. It only makes it less safe, adding significant risk to a woman’s health and life.

With or without resources, all of our sovereignty is being trampled. And the fact that some of us can afford a work-around is unbearably unfair, sad, and infuriating. All of which is why I was compelled to share my story with you today. Have you ever heard the expression, “You’re as sick as your secrets?” You’re as sick as your secrets... Shame festers in secrecy and binds us in silence. I believe now is the time to change the abortion narrative. To break the silence... to own our choices and our rights, not just privately, but with others.

While, as a healthcare organization, Planned Parenthood will always protect our right to privacy, it is our job, as supporters of Planned Parenthood, to address the resultant shame, secrecy and stigma surrounding abortion care.

We know that a 59% majority of U.S. adults say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while 39% think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. We also know that 1 in 4 American women will have an abortion by the age of 45. Abortion is an integral part of women’s health care. Yet how many of us who have had abortions have not told our spouses, families, friends or even physicians? Our desire for privacy, in part, masks shame. We are not living out loud in alignment with our values. Many of us don’t want to talk about it. It’s awkward! Complicated. Unpleasant. I get it — it’s private. But I think it’s possible that until that changes, nothing will. We will continue to be subject to the tyranny of the minority until more of us are willing to make it personal and destigmatize abortion by sharing our experiences.

My preference? Of course I would prefer not to tell you my story — but I’ve come to the conclusion that my preference for privacy is part of the problem in the national debate about abortion. My preference for privacy can no longer trump her rights and her sovereignty — so that’s why I’m speaking up.