I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome at age 19. That means cysts had grown on the outside of my ovaries and created all sorts of problems. Left untreated, this can lead to serious health issues like infertility, heart disease and diabetes.
Fortunately, I had insurance, and my OB/GYN caught it and started hormone therapy treatment right away—also known as birth-control pills. She cautioned me I would have to take this treatment for years, until the time came when I wanted to have children. And I would need to be screened every year to make sure nothing more serious had developed.
Fast forward five years: I was unemployed, had no health insurance, and my pills were running out.
I went to the "free" medical clinic, waited an hour to see the overworked doctor who rushed in, only taking five minutes to check my blood pressure and heart sounds. When I told him what I really needed—a prescription for birth-control pills—he stepped back as if I just told him I had Ebola. He sneered, "We don't do that here," and gave me the number for Planned Parenthood as he rushed out of the room.
I had never been to a Planned Parenthood. Some of my friends had made secret trips to get pills or condoms and even an abortion. I never had a need to go, because if something like that came up in our family, we would talk about it over dinner, and my parents would help.
My brother and I were encouraged to ask anything about sex, health, life, the news ... whatever. We knew the truth about "where babies come from" much earlier than our schoolmates. My parents never passed judgment and never said sex was wrong. They did encourage us to be smart about it, to only do it when we were ready and to use protection.
So, I had no idea what to expect when I made my appointment. I actually drove right past the place on my first attempt. There was no bright neon sign flashing "Planned Parenthood: Get Your Abortions Here!" It was in a strip mall and with a small sign that said simply: Planned Parenthood. I actually knew where to turn because of the crowd of protesters outside.
As I walked toward the building, protesters were in my face, shouting "Baby Killer" and "Choose Life." They were yelling at me to "give your baby a chance at life."
There was a moment when I thought about turning around to these uninformed people and setting them straight. They didn't know me. They didn't know my real purpose for being there: I had nowhere else to turn, and my health depended on Planned Parenthood. But I thought better of it and went inside.
I thought I would be the oldest woman in the waiting room. But we were all ages, races, shapes and sizes.
I didn't wait for 30 minutes to then go into the other room and wait another 30, like at a "regular" doctor's office. The doctor saw me right away and spent quality time with me. She asked a lot of questions to determine if birth-control pills were indeed still the best treatment. She performed an exam, did a blood test, and I didn't have to wait for days for results. She told me I was still on a good track and prescribed more pills. I paid the clinic $10 and left with a three-month supply.
When that ran out, the thought of having to walk through another throng of protesters made me ill, so my dad went and picked up my next three-month supply, because that's how we roll.
In the years since, I have often thought about how life would be different if the 19-year-old me didn't have insurance. Where could I have turned for answers? What about the other young women who have more serious health issues, and Planned Parenthood is their only option?
This organization has made it their mission to provide general health care and reproductive choices for women, "regardless of income, marital status, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, national origin, or residence."
So, as Congress debates whether or not Planned Parenthood should continue receiving funding for providing this health care to women, do me a favor and think of that young woman who may be able to live a healthy life because the organization was there in her hour of need.
Dawn Dugle is the founder of Dawn Dugle Consulting, a news and social-media consulting company. She previously spent two decades as a broadcast and digital journalist in newsrooms around the country.