No patient should face protesters while accessing health care

BRATTLEBORO — For the past few months, students from Thomas Aquinas College have been driving up from Northfield, Mass., to downtown Brattleboro to protest our local Planned Parenthood.

On Tuesday afternoons, as many as 60 protesters arrive with anti-abortion signs, chalking the sidewalks with judgment, making High Street a hostile place for any person seeking health care at the clinic.

Planned Parenthood offers a wide range of health care services - from well-person visits and cancer screenings to birth control consultations and mental health referrals.

When I was 17, I went to Planned Parenthood for STI testing, nearly debilitated by shame and dread. There I was treated with kindness and compassion and received thorough, high-quality, affordable care. I can't imagine how I would have felt walking in past a judging crowd. No patient should have to face the animosity of protesters on their way to access the health care they need.

I'm frustrated and angry that the Thomas Aquinas anti-choice club has chosen Brattleboro for its weekly field trips. Their protests don't reflect our community's perspective, which is why I joined a group chalking in front of Planned Parenthood on Tuesday mornings.

To support the clinic's health care workers and patients, locals have been covering the High Street sidewalk with rainbows, hearts, flowers, and positive messages. Some of my favorites: “Brattleboro stands with Planned Parenthood,” “Love is choice,” “We are strong,” and “Pap smears for humans.”

Chalking on High Street with other supporters, my palms coated in yellow and fuchsia dust, I felt gratitude for our town and the people passing by, cheering us on and thanking us for our art. It felt good to create beauty together and stand in solidarity with those working in the clinic.

I know I'm lucky to have had access to good reproductive health care since I was a teen - from that early STI testing to my first diaphragm. I'm lucky that when I got pregnant at 19, as a college student and varsity athlete, I had the option to get a safe, legal abortion, supported by my parents and caring providers.

“Love life. Choose life,” said a protester's sign. I did just that: I loved my life. I chose my life.

The Thomas Aquinas students are dogged, showing up every Tuesday without fail. They may think their protests are effective, but they're starting to have an unintended effect.

Each week, community members are donating $1 per protester to support the high-quality services that Planned Parenthood provides. I gave $50 this week in honor of Thomas Aquinas College and sent a notice to President Michael F. McLean informing him of my gift.

I hope you'll support this community effort and donate in the name of Thomas Aquinas College. Go to ppnne.org/donate and click the “I'd like to make this contribution in honor of someone” box.

It feels pretty good - about as good as chalking love on the sidewalk.

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