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Stories connect us all.

Real stories. Real Vermonters.

Q: What does reproductive liberty mean to you?


Ash's Story

"Like many women or femme-presenting people, I chose to go to a conservative OB-GYN for my reproductive care since I started my first period – around age 16. The staff there was good at the medically-related services they provided me, but I always felt uncomfortable – like something was missing in my experience each time. I stayed with them through my pregnancy with my son six years ago, but afterward I switched to Planned Parenthood because I’d decided to finally explore my sexuality and identity more. I very quickly realized that the two biggest reasons I had never felt comfortable at my traditional OB-GYN were because I could never ask questions that were gender-related, and all the services were very heteronormative. This was a huge problem for me, as I identify as a queer, non-binary mother.

From the first appointment I attended, the staff at Planned Parenthood was warm, non-judgmental, and provided me a level of care that I’d never experienced before. I was treated with respect, consideration, and finally figured out how to use a dental dam. SO simple, right? Yet, it had been far out of my reach my entire life prior. I accessed their care through a sliding fee scale, which was new to me as an individual, since I’d been socially trained to never accept financial help even when it’s offered. There’s a level of shame that has long-been embedded within social expectations around accepting any form of help. Additionally, coming from an impoverished background, money really stresses me out a lot – although I’m sure most can relate to that sentiment regardless of their upbringing. I was dealing with major financial concerns when I started going to Planned Parenthood, but they were confidential, reassuring, and they offered different solutions to me that did not revolve around a payment plan, which would not have worked because I was homeless and just taking the terrifying step to starting my life as an individual, fresh out of a conflict-rich, damaging marriage.

Planned Parenthood has since been an incredible staple in providing me consistent support in figuring out more regarding who I am – in my identity, in my sexual orientation - as well as helping me work through a lot of sexual trauma. Their support has helped me focus on other areas in my life that I’m working on – I’m finally finishing up my degree in social psychology, with a concentration on sex, intimacy, and relationships. My ability to focus so diligently on my studies has only been further supported because I don’t have to worry about my birth control needs, and I know I have some amazing resources whenever I need it.

I want others to know that affordable care is not a simple choice for a lot of people – especially those who are marginalized, impoverished, and who are women. If they don’t have the kind of support that Planned Parenthood provides, it very quickly becomes a matter of life and death. We are real people who are dealing with real stressors and experiencing the very real consequences of not having access to proper sexual and reproductive health care services.

Since my initial experience, I’m so privileged to say that I have become part of Planned Parenthood’s Patient Advocacy program, working to protect the sexual and reproductive health rights of everyone, everywhere. I have found that because I use Planned Parenthood’s services so often, I can relate to at least one part of every single person’s story I collect as part of that team.

The bottom line is this: sex and reproduction are basic HUMAN experiences – in turn, access to services that support those experiences should be treated as a basic human right. These aren’t privileges that are reserved for the “elite” of this country. So, why should access to services that keep us all safe and healthy be limited to the few instead of made available to the majority? It simply doesn’t make sense."

Atticus's Story

"Reproductive freedom means not only having access to important resources, but having a working knowledge of what those resources are. Access to legal and safe abortion is important for when that’s necessary, but we also need the education piece. We need to have comprehensive sex-ed in the U.S. so people can have a better understanding of their body.

I am gay, I have always been gay. When I was younger and was taught about sex and sexuality, I wasn’t taught that being gay or lesbian was even a choice. I thought I had to have sex with men, and I had a lot of really unpleasant experiences because of that. If I had had better education about sexual representation this would be different.

I have a lot of friends that are transgender, and they go to Planned Parenthood for their care and hormones. That is really important to me. It’s not a cosmetic procedure, it’s a life-saving procedure. Asking a man to carry a baby is insane. The suicide rate, and homicide rate, is so high for trans people. When I think about my friends having access to Planned Parenthood care, I feel relief. Relief in a large vacuum of fear. I live in almost perpetual fear for the lives of my friends who are trans.

It is important that reproductive freedom is ensured by Vermont constitution because it will save lives. It will prevent suicide. People will resort to other measures if they don’t have access and aren’t able to be in the right environment to have a child."

Austin's Story

"The right to decide what to do with your own body is an inalienable right. It’s a fundamental right. When a woman gets pregnant, it is she who carries the child, it is she who chooses what is best for her body and life. The body is the common denominator in the human race and its autonomy is essential to democracy, to freedom. The right to decide what to do with your own body, to choose your future, is arguably a fundamental right. If you don’t have a right to your own body, then what other rights can be taken away? If we infringe upon reproductive rights, upon bodily autonomy, then what democracy are we living in?

Yes, it’s happened to me. We talked about birth control; we had only been together a few months. To be honest, I think I kind of assumed she was on birth control. We did talk about it and then we continued to have unprotected sex. All the rest happened without me knowing- she didn’t tell me she got pregnant, she didn’t tell me anything until after she’d had the abortion. It strained our relationship. I guess, I wish I could have known, to support her. It affected our relationship to have something so substantial happen and for me to be uninvolved. However, I’m so glad the option existed and know that it was ultimately her choice. Likewise, I couldn’t have afforded a child. I wouldn’t be in law school now and she wouldn’t be successful either. It makes me feel uneasy when I think about it, but it’s just that: uneasy. I didn’t have to face the physical burden, the emotional decision, or the consequences in the way that she did."

Breanna's Story

"I first visited Planned Parenthood in my early twenties. I had previously been to gynecologists at other clinics, but these visits had never felt comfortable. Whenever they asked me if I was monogamous and I replied that I wasn't, I felt judged. This wasn't a good feeling as a young adult trying to figure out what worked best for me and my reproductive health. I first went to Planned Parenthood for routine STD testing and this visit was entirely different. Everyone - the receptionists, the doctors, and the nurses - all asked questions without judgement and only asked the questions they needed to ask for my health. It was the greatest thing. I kept going back for all regular check-ups, pap smears, and testing. Every staff member was so wonderful and helpful. I am 31 and married now, but back in the day I was a normal person who didn't always stay monogamous. I needed help in figuring out how to get birth control and what the best options were. I needed nonjudgmental support. Ever since then, I won't go anywhere else for my reproductive healthcare.

I moved to Virginia about five years ago. The first time I needed gynecological care, I looked up the local Planned Parenthoods in my area. To my surprise, every Planned Parenthood location that I found had been shut down. I don't know if this was due to laws or funding, but it meant there was no clinic where I could get the quality care that I had come to love. It's a totally different world in Virginia compared to Vermont. Given the lack of access here, I now get my gynecological needs met when I fly home to visit my family in Vermont. I am happy to spend the time and money on the flight so I can receive the best healthcare services. Years later, I still come home to the Chittenden county Planned Parenthoods for my yearly pap and birth control needs. They have helped me get through difficult times with emergency testing as well, and I have always felt accepted with no judgement. This service is essential for all people and it's too bad there isn't this kind of care where I am in Virginia. I feel so grateful to my home state for providing these essential services.

To me, reproductive freedom means that everyone has access to the care they need for their reproductive health. This includes birth control, abortions, STD testing, and all the services that Planned Parenthood offers. Ideally everybody in the world would have access to this kind of care. Witnessing the lack of access in Virginia reminds me of how fortunate we are in Vermont to have the services that we need to stay healthy and safe. Vermont is already doing such a great job at keeping these services accessible, but to have reproductive freedom written into Vermont's Constitution would be an awesome step forward. These services are too valuable to not legally protect. We see other states limiting options on a legislative level and the repercussions are huge. I hope that Vermont can set an example for other states to follow. Perhaps other states could witness what we are doing here in Vermont and consider safeguarding reproductive freedom in their constitutions as well. This is an important impact that we could have on the national level. I am proud of my home state for taking these steps with Prop 5 and for remaining committed to providing such a high level of reproductive healthcare. Please keep doing these wonderful things!

I think Planned Parenthood is so awesome. I am sure there are other gynecologists that I could visit here in Virginia, but I keep coming back to Vermont because Planned Parenthood is just that great. I will continue coming back for as long as I possibly can. Thank you all for everything! "

Carole's Story

"The year was 1966. It was a different time back then – birth control and abortion weren’t options. I was 24 years old and traveling across the country with a friend. At one point in our travels, I was raped by a man whose name I don’t know and of whom I have little memory of. It was a traumatic experience, made even worse by the fact that on the way home from our trip, I realized that I had missed a period. In those days, there were so few options for women. Abortion was illegal. When girls ended up pregnant, they either disappeared and gave the baby up for adoption or they did their own abortion and took their lives into their own hands. I was a registered nurse, but still had no one that I could contact to do an abortion for me. It was a desperate decision, but I decided not to risk my life. At the time, I was returning home to get married. This is the man I am currently married to all these years later. He was supportive of my predicament and at first suggested that we keep the child. But I couldn’t do that, in large part because I couldn’t confide in my parents and didn’t know what to tell them. I was desperate and unable to confide in those who were close to me. So we got married and I kept the pregnancy. I set up arrangements with Spence Chapin agency in New York to have the baby adopted. My parents never knew. I told everyone that I had lost the baby and instead brought the baby to New York three days after she was born. It was an incredibly difficult experience. I remember very little about the pregnancy and the birth. Giving her up for adoption was terribly difficult and the aftermath has been hard as well. Spence Chapin was a completely closed book. All I heard was that she went to a good home. If I had had an abortion at 6 weeks, this would have been a very different story.

I have always wondered what happened to her. I have wanted to reach out over the years but also haven’t wanted to upset her life. But last year, I did a DNA test and these tests have a way of pulling up untold secrets. Low and behold, I got an email from a girl who said she had an open invitation to speak with me. She had figured out that she was adopted and had inquired at the agency. The dates and facts all lined up – sure enough, here was the child I had given up for adoption, all grown up. We emailed back and forth and made plans to talk on the phone. We have stayed in touch since and while our interactions are sweet and polite, they also feel a bit superficial. You cannot mend all those years gone by. The emotional attachment and sentiment isn’t quite there. However, we did meet up in person recently during a trip I made to Florida. During this visit, I got deeper insight into both her and her adoptive mother’s story.

She told me that her adoptive mother was raped, abused, and got pregnant at 17. She was sent away to a home run by nuns to give birth. Shortly after the birth, the baby was taken away from her and was never seen again. Her mother has lived her whole life with this trauma and has since adopted two children. My daughter had decided not to tell her adoptive mother that she had found me - her birth mother. She thought it might be too painful to bring up, especially with her mother’s past and all that she had gone through. She worried that her mother might think she was in jeopardy of losing her daughter if she knew I had been found.

These circumstances are complicated and painful. And this story is not unique to me. We are all touched by this issue in various ways. The other day, I was at a meeting and we all began sharing our stories. To be a woman in our society is to have faced some iteration of this story. Unintended pregnancy is something so many of us share and therefore its extremely important that we have options. Women will always find a way. The laws will not prevent women from having an abortion or having an unplanned pregnancy. They simply have the power to ensure safe options if and when a woman finds herself in need. There is too much at stake here. Decisions are made by judges and legislators, but they can’t possibly know the intricacies of each individual situation. I was in a desperate place and because of my lack of options, I was forced to make an incredibly difficult decision. I was fortunate to have supportive people in my life. The truth is, the men in the stories never suffer the impunity of their actions. I don’t even know the name of my daughter’s father. He went on to live his life and I suffered a terribly difficult situation and decision. The women in these stories go through this pain by themselves. Therefore, it must be up to the woman to choose what is best for her body, her family, and her well-being"

Diana's Story

"When I was in high school I suffered from crippling ovarian cysts that would keep me in bed curled around a heating pad, or stop me in my tracks with shooting pains rushing through my abdomen. I came to Planned Parenthood in hopes of finding a way to cope. The staff patiently and compassionately helped me find a solution. It took multiple visits with trial and error of different kinds of birth control before we found one that worked best to relieve my symptoms. Everyone kept an open dialogue with me and went out of their way to communicate. They made sure that I was happy with the result. We finally landed on the Nexplanon and my symptoms have greatly improved! The care I received was so great that I continue to go back to Planned Parenthood for my gynecological care. I just went the other day for a pap smear. The staff did a great job explaining every step and discussing any alternatives with me. I had some concerns about a history of ovarian cancer in my family and they were really helpful in counseling me through that as well. They took the time to answer my questions and address my concerns. This is the kind of healthcare that all people deserve access to.

Proposition 5 is important to me because reproductive freedom allows for access to birth control and other forms of sexual healthcare. This includes all forms - screening, testing, gyn care - and is super important for the health and safety of women. We live in a time where people should be able to decide if they want to have a baby or not. It is crucial that people have access to birth control. I am pro-choice and I think that public access to birth control is key in the prevention of unintended pregnancy. Furthermore, birth control and reproductive services are not just about preventing pregnancy. It is also so helpful in managing ovarian cysts, acne control, and painful periods, as well as many other conditions. Comprehensive reproductive healthcare is something that must be accessible to all.

The caring staff at Planned Parenthood patiently helped me work through the process of finding a kind of birth control that helped me manage the frequency & severity of my ovarian cysts. Thanks to their amazing team I now rarely have to deal with the pain associated with my cysts rupturing. I am grateful to have found a method that works for me and my body. I hope that as a state we can keep access to these services a reality for all."

Emily's Story

"My childhood was evangelical Christian. We didn’t have public education regarding sexuality and there was great deal of judgement and shame surrounding sexuality in my community. Not knowing about reproductive anatomy stretches back generations in my family. My grandparents got pregnant and got married, and that has repeated itself.

As a teenager I was an actor in the Right to Life theatre group, I went to schools and taught abstinence only. My mother gave me a chastity ring, telling me, “I was worth waiting for.” In my youth I marched in Washington against abortion, with the Right to Life march. It was two weeks before my father passed away, when I was 14, and when I came back he gave me a certificate he made because he was so proud of me for participating in the March. So, I do respect human life- I know that it’s a freedom we have to fight for because there is activity fighting against it on the other side.

I didn’t experience an orgasm until I was 20, at college. I became sexually active at that time. I used condoms. I brought one that day I got pregnant and we used it. The second time we ad sex, he said he couldn’t ejaculate since we had just had sex, so it would be fine. That’s how my daughter came into the world. 

The first thing I taught my daughter when she was old enough was about anatomy. I think sexual education is so, so important. Anatomy reproduction and on the other side if you’re taught that something is bad or wrong, that impacts you for the rest of your life. So education comes first.

I think it’s so important that we protect reproductive freedom in our constitution because I was on the other side. I marched, I educated people for the right to life. Reproductive freedom is so essential, and we must protect it. "

Faith's Story

"Before I had my abortion I Googled it, of course. All the resources online were negative. They discussed living with regrets, god’s shame, and were essentially propaganda. Yet in reality, the common narrative from my experience is it is a relief and a blessing for most women. Certainly, it is a serious, serious decision and can feel like a real loss. It did for me, at least. I want to share my story because I want there to be a positive narrative for women and girls choosing abortion.

I got pregnant on New Year’s of 2015. I was on birth control. The man was in the military, I had known him for over a decade, but we weren’t in a relationship. I had been living in Minneapolis for about a year. I was living in a shoe box with three great friends and working at a homeless shelter. I loved my job, but it was hard and left me on a shoestring budget. My mother had died less than a year before. I was still grieving. When I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wasn’t emotionally ready after the loss of my mother. I knew I couldn’t afford it; I knew it wasn’t the right time in my life. From my faith perspective, I felt responsible for my community and my actions. Having a baby at that time would have violated that.

I didn’t tell my extended family at the time; I think they would have been excited and maybe used it to fill the void from losing my mother. I did tell the man who impregnated me. He was psychologically unstable. He wanted me to keep it. He threatened to beat me. He would call me again and again. What’s so important about reproductive freedom is that I had the choice. I avoided having a child with a man I didn’t love and who likely would have beat me for the rest of my life. Most importantly, I got to maintain control over my body and my choice. It’s important for women to be able to choose when they want a child and not to shackle themselves and a child to a life they don’t deserve."

Hannah's* Story

"When Trump got elected, I got an IUD. Turns out this was a common thing. Many women all across the country had the same thought. It was such a time of uncertainty. What would this presidency look like? What would happen to our reproductive rights? Would birth control continue to be covered by insurance? Would abortion remain legal? So many questions came up for me and it gave me the very real fear that my choice would be taken away. I have an autoimmune condition and have lived most of my life knowing all too well what it feels like to lack complete control of my body. The back pain, the fatigue, and the other symptoms this condition leaves me with are not something I can wave away with an easy fix. It's not a good feeling. Birth control for me has always been about taking my agency back. Unlike the autoimmune condition, I can find a solution and take matters into my own hands. I got an IUD in the wake of the Trump election because having one meant that whatever happens in the next four years, I have control. I can keep it in, I can take it out, and its presence is not something that is subject to the whim of political changes. Reproductive choice was not something I was willing to lose.

So, I went to my gynecologist. I had insurance and it felt like a relatively simple process. I went in and asked for information about the different kinds of IUDs. I was given a pamphlet with three options and sent home to do my own research. It was hard to figure out what the best choice for me was without professional guidance. There is so much on the internet and it's hard to parcel out what is true and what would be best for my body. If I hadn't been very motivated to get an IUD, the way that I was counseled would not have inspired me to get one. I would have felt much more comfortable with what I was getting myself into had I had more professional support.

A year later I started working at Planned Parenthood. This opened a world of new perspective for me. First, I was trained into a model where counseling is at the core of practice. When people came in wanting an IUD, we spent time going over many options, answering questions, and problem solving for each patient. The model was all about evidence-based medicine and shared decision-making. As part of the training process, I followed staff members and was exposed to different styles of care. The staff was diverse, and everyone had their own unique way of connecting with patients. People used humor, presence, openness, compassion or whatever the individual situation called for. Reproductive health is filled with intimate conversations, and I learned that quality care is about matching the style of the patients and figuring out how best to connect and gain trust. It's about how to make patients feel safe and heard in their healthcare process. I like the counseling style of Planned Parenthood because it allows space for staff to remain true to who they are. You cannot provide quality care with being truly authentic.

Given the intimacy of the conversations, reproductive health is about so much more than just the care itself. It's about education, sensitive and trusting conversations, and assessment of emotional and physical health and safety. When people don't have access to this kind of care, so much more than just the physical part of healthcare is lost. This makes me think of a 14-year-old patient that I had the privilege of working with. Her pregnancy was a surprise to her because her previous sexual education was so lacking that she didn't realize that the sexual practices she was engaging in could get her pregnant. She truly didn't know enough about the process to even know she was having sex. When a clinic closes or laws restrict access, you take away needed procedures, but you also take away all the sexual education gaps that reproductive healthcare is filling.

Planned Parenthood and her abortion experience was this young patient's sexual education. It's not fair that she didn't even know to be on birth control because she didn't realize she was having sex. It's not fair that she had two STD's because she didn't know how to protect herself or even that protection was necessary. It's not fair that she had to learn about sex, pregnancy, and STDs during an appointment for abortion counseling at 14 years old. But this is the position that her life circumstances and the current system left her in. This is an example of one of the many gaps in the system that Planned Parenthood fills. Reproductive freedom and access to quality healthcare is not just about abortion. It's about all the counseling, the guidance, the education, and the emotional support that comes along with the intimate conversations and relationships of trust that are built throughout the process.

Reproductive freedom makes me think of another patient that I worked with. This woman had just moved to the US from China and came to Planned Parenthood for an ultrasound. She had had a child many years before and due to the one child policy in China, her provider had placed a metal, circular IUD in her uterus that could not be removed. We had never seen a device like this before. She came to us with questions: Could we remove it? Could she have another child now that she is in the US? I think about this case often because it exists on the opposite end of the spectrum of choice. Here was a woman who wanted more children, but a political decision and sub-standard health care had taken that choice away from her. Women's reproductive autonomy has been threatened from all angles. In our own country, we have both a history of forced sterilization as well as forced continuation of pregnancy. Fundamentally, this is the same issue. It's about taking away women's reproductive autonomy and it has devastating consequences. Every individual is different and health care must be tailored to meet their given needs. And needs change. This is why access to choice is the most important piece of this puzzle. When I was working at Planned Parenthood, I would often ask myself, "If I found out that I was pregnant today, what would I do?" And the truth is, the answer changed every day. I would argue we can never know what our answer to that question would be until we are faced with actually having to make that decision. And so the laws must reflect the variability of our answers to these tough questions. We must have a system that provides the care that an individual may need in any given moment in time.

I loved being a part of the abortion care provided by Planned Parenthood because it allowed me a window into human complexity. Nobody ever wakes up thinking, "Hmm, today I would love to have an abortion." And yet when faced with the decision, there are so many different reasons that lead women to make that hard choice. I saw patients who were having an abortion so they could take care of the kids they already have. Other patients were in abusive relationships. Some simply weren't ready to become a parent. Others were in school. Some were having an abortion because birth control had failed them despite doing everything "right." Just like everything else in life, the experience and the circumstances that lead to it, are so varied. Why is this one part of health care so stigmatized when its complex circumstances are experiences that so many share?

I am now in medical school at UVM and when I think of my future as a physician, I hope to be an abortion provider. However, I recognize that unfortunately, this is not a simple decision. I want to have kids someday, and I feel hesitant about what that would mean for my family. I have heard stories of doctors being the target of anti-abortion threats or attacks and this makes me wary. I was lucky to work in a state where threats at Planned Parenthood were minimal, but lots of doctors travel to other less supportive parts of the country to provide abortions where access is scarce. These are the places that really need medical support and attention, but providing that care can be a scary endeavor. It's an interesting consideration when going into the medical field. In most other areas of medicine, we aren't faced with decisions about our personal or family's safety. Abortion care is such a socially and politically charged field that it gives me pause. I feel passionate that this care be provided and therefore recognize that we must make this a more feasible field to go into. Change is slow, but I do believe it is happening. More conversations are being had, more stories are being shared, and there is a heightened awareness as our political climate faces these important issues. It's a balance to figure out just how vocal to be or how best to enact change.

One in three women have an abortion. This statistic is so important to share because it speaks to just how common, yet silenced this experience is. In my time at Planned Parenthood, I learned first-hand that abortion happens all the time, it will continue to happen, and that nobody is immune to this predicament, no matter what we may tell ourselves. We need to talk about it more; we need to break down the stigma. Story sharing is so powerful because it allows us to see the human side of the decision. People's minds and perspectives change when it becomes personal; when someone they know or love is faced with making a reproductive choice. But this altered perspective will never be gained if we all remain silent. It takes a lot of bravery and strength, but we must engage in open conversation and political action in order to ensure that reproductive freedom is a right to which we all have access."

*Name has been changed for privacy.

Jacob's Story

"Thinking back to the night I lost my virginity….it’s pretty cringe-worthy.  I was probably about 15 and visiting my older brother at college. There was a lot of peer pressure that night; lots of dudes chest thumping, pre-gaming in a dorm room. The plan was to head out to a party, and everyone seemed to think that it was very important that I hook up with someone that night.  I ended up pairing up with a nice girl.  I think we were both pretty terrified, but were in a similar boat – it felt like role-playing.  She was also college-visiting and was still in high school, too.  Looking back, I believe that it was consensual – but it mostly felt awkward and uncomfortable. We did use a condom, I remember that much. I think back to that night and it’s so far from the way I wish it had been.  My main impression of that night is that she and I were both playing out our roles.  We thought, “this is what we were supposed to being doing,” and so we did it.  But there are always two very different perspectives with any story.  It's challenging to think back on that night because…I think it was consensual.  Notions of consent had been hammered into my head enough that I think I at least verbally asked for consent (probably in the least smooth way possible), but it's a great example of an interaction with super shady grey areas. I would not be completely surprised if she felt like it wasn't consensual, and just that possibility makes me cringe.  Sex through most of high school continued to be dominated by peer pressure for me, and it wasn't a comfortable or beautiful experience until I really fell in love with someone a year or two later. Then it was beautiful.  But that was far from how it was presented to me as a teen.

I share my virginity story because I recently watched the film Break the Silence and was struck by the virginity stories that women shared. It's such a vulnerable time and my real take away is that toxic masculinity truly hurts us all. It’s been making me think lately about why male sexuality is so troubled. I think when we hear the words "toxic masculinity" we think about aggressive men perpetrating violence in one form or another against women. And this is certainly a very large piece of the problem. But another part, which is ultimately very intertwined, is that toxic masculinity also silences any man – especially a young man – who might want to do things differently. I think back to high school and remember all the times of pretending. Everybody is playing out this role of the “tough dude.” I wasn’t necessarily aware of it, but I was terrified of not being the tough dude.  Masculinity told me I should be something that I was not, and I felt pressured to live up to it.

These insidious roles hurt everybody, but they work because of fear and insecurity, and because of that, I just don't think we can leave it up to young men to get this right on their own without a lot of help. We need to make sure men and boys are talking about these things very early on. We need to break this male silence; to delve into conversations about experiences of sexuality, discuss the complexity, the importance of consent, and talk about what it actually means to be a man. What does that look like to you? I think back and remember some really well-intentioned teachers trying to facilitate these conversations in high-school, and I remember them being horrifyingly awkward and uncomfortable. But the conversations need to be had. We need more settings, more mentors, more role models, more safe places for men to start practicing communicating about this early on. Because the alternative is dangerous for all parties involved. It's how the seeds are planted for perpetrating violent, non-consensual and potentially traumatic experiences, even in cases when the young man is horrified by that possibility and doesn't mean to hurt anyone. Toxic masculinity forces boys to become men they don't even want to be.  We need to talk about that. 

I’ve been thinking of men’s relationship to the movement for reproductive rights a lot recently.  Just recently, a guy very close to me told me a story that really made me think.  A few years ago, this guy was traveling across the country for work.  He had just recently gotten out of a relationship and had a one-night stand with a woman. They had connected, it was consensual, she was on some sort of birth control, but they didn't stay in much contact after that.  Over the years she was intermittently in touch with him.  He told me that it had always seemed strange to him - he interpreted her communication as her wanting to pursue a romantic relationship, but for his part he felt like they had talked about that beforehand and that wasn’t really a possibility.  About a month or two ago, she came out to where he lived and they met up and had dinner.  She ended up telling him that she had gotten pregnant the night of their one night stand and had an abortion. She had wanted to tell him all these years, but hadn’t felt comfortable doing so.  I can only imagine – I’m sure it's not an easy thing.  And culturally she came from a place where this decision was really difficult for her. It's hard to know how to talk about these things. Finding out years later really rocked my friend.  He was struck by it, the fact that for a little while there, he was, or could have been, a father.  It made us both think about the male perspective on all of this in a new way.  I think it’s so frequently the case that men have no idea when partners have an abortion.  And that’s so difficult, because I hate to say that it’s women’s responsibility to tell them.  But I was thinking about the statistic -  if 1 in 4 women have had an abortion, that means roughly 1 in 4 men have also, right?  That statistical flip is really eye-opening.  We never talk about it that way, but it's got to be true.  But I think the truth is that men generally just don’t end up knowing, and that unfortunately makes it so much easier for us men to get off the hook, to just be passive supporters of reproductive rights, without really knowing that part we play in this.  It makes me think back on my own experience….I don't think any of the women I have slept with have conceived….but I don’t know, right?

This silence makes it too easy for us to be passive supporters. I include myself in this - men who are well meaning, who would call themselves pro-choice, but who are sitting back and watching women wage this fight.  I am in awe of the strength of the women standing up for their rights and braving this broken system.  And as men, sometimes it's hard to know how to get involved.  We don’t want to take the stage from women – I think it’s important that women lead here.  And, this links back to all of toxic masculinity - we are uncomfortable talking about this stuff.  Most men were never taught how, and never had a chance to practice.  Men generally have a pretty low level of knowledge in this subject matter, and even well-intentioned men may be scared of being ridiculed or betraying ignorance.  Because that still happens all the time.  It's been interesting watching this play out in medical school – everyone still laughs when a male student answers a question about menstruation – it’s how we all learned to react from such an early age!  Men are clearly scared to enter the conversation. This has been largely a women's movement and thank god for all the hard work women have done. But I keep coming back to that statistic - 1 in 4 women, and therefore, roughly 1 in 4 men. This is clearly a men's issue too, but we’re not seeing that way.  I don't want to put any more responsibility on women.  I hate to say that women should always have to tell their partners or it's the woman's job to wake us up to our role in this. But, to women, I would say, if at all possible, tell your partner.  Invite us, demand us to be a part of the conversation.  Women should not be alone in this fight.  The act of getting pregnant takes both of us and we need men to start showing up for this movement.

I feel like I was a prime example of a passive supporter. I am a heterosexual male who needed to be pulled into the movement. I'm a super busy medical student. The night that Break the Silence was screened at UVM, I went because I had been pulled in to help at the event. I probably wouldn't have gone otherwise. It would have been easy to say that I was too busy. But I was one of only a few men who were at the screening, and it got me thinking. How do we pull men in? How do we get them in the door? I think this film would have deeply touched so many men in the UVM community had they been there. But how do we get them to show up if they don't recognize that this is their issue too?

I bet that a lot of men are on the cusp of taking that next step. We need to enter the very uncomfortable space that so many of us are avoiding. Because the truth is, we aren't currently winning this fight. States all across the nation are passing legislation that limits access to the care that women need.  Men are half the population. I believe that if we could pull more men into this conversation, if we stopped being passive and recognized that reproductive freedom affects us all, we could see more legislation pass like Proposition 5.  At no point in my life so far have I felt ready to be a father, so reproductive freedom is deeply important to me, too. "

Jennifer's Story

"In a small rural village in the Southern Highlands of Tanzania, I lived for two years among women, children, and their champions whose strength and resiliency inspired me to devote my professional career to the field of Public Health. My interest in international development led me to Tanzania as a Community Health volunteer with the United States Peace Corps. I worked primarily on early childhood and maternal nutrition projects as well as reproductive and sexual health education. It was during that time that I developed a love and passion for work that sought to empower women and girls and improve access to reproductive care.

One of my very favorite stories to tell about my service is of a young girl named Delisa. I had decided that I wanted to do a re-usable sanitary pad project at the primary school with a group of adolescents. The kindergarten teacher had agreed to work with me and when I proposed the idea of teaching a group of girls afterschool, she agreed, but not before insisting that the boys would need to learn too. She made the case that adolescent boys may have sisters at home and one day those boys may have daughters, so, of course, this information would be incredibly valuable for them to have as well. Grateful for her insight and for her unwavering devotion to her students, teacher Mang’uli was such a joy to work with. Over the course of many weeks we taught 4th-, 5th-, and 6th-grade students how to cut out fabric and sew plastic bags and towels together to create their own re-usable sanitary pads. One day, not long after we had completed the project, I heard a knock at my door. I heard giggles outside and when I opened the door, Delisa, a student with whom I was particularly close, was standing on my doorstep with a friend standing by her side. I asked her what was going on. They both giggled harder. Then, she cupped her hand over her mouth and brought her face close to mine. Into my ear she whispered, “I’m wearing my re-usable pad.”  

As Peace Corps volunteers, we rarely get to witness the ripe fruits of our labor. And yet, in that moment, I realized that the relationships I had built with those students at the primary school and the work that Mang’uli and I had done, mattered.

I returned from Tanzania changed in all of the ways that Peace Corps service alters perspectives and touches the heart. My love for the region and its people will always remain and the course of my professional career has been profoundly impacted. And yet, I felt my own reservations about the field of international development increasing as I re-entered into the cadence of life back in the United States in the spring of 2017. Having studied international development in undergrad, I was well aware of the challenges and complexities that come with the field. With the country on the heels of President Trump’s inauguration, I felt my passion for maternal and child health pulling me towards domestically oriented work. Ultimately, I felt that the public health challenges here in the United States were those to which I needed to devote myself—and where my work could have the most meaningful impact.  

I recently received a master’s degree in Public Health with a concentration in Health Systems and Policy and a certificate in Maternal and Child Health. I focused heavily on public health and the law, and the regulation of women and their bodies under the right to privacy in the U.S. constitution. And yet, as the country has seen again and again, the precedent through which the right to reproductive health and reproductive freedom has been derived since the landmark case Griswold v. Connecticut was decided by the Supreme Court in 1965, continues to be threatened. The right to privacy has been challenged and chipped away at aggressively enough that I am no longer confident that it will be enough to uphold reproductive freedom in all the ways that we have come to expect through precedent set by the cases that have followed from Griswold v. ConnecticutRoe v. Wade, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt among them.

That is why I have decided to contribute to this important initiative to incorporate reproductive freedom into Vermont’s Constitution by volunteering for Planned Parenthood. It is my hope that this amendment (Prop 5) will set a higher standard for the future of reproductive health rights in the U.S. More importantly, it is the symbolism of this amendment that I hope can signal to women across the country that people are fighting to shift stigma, increase access to reproductive healthcare, and encourage increased autonomy among women and the choices they make in relation to their health, well-being, and ultimately, their bodies. It is a human right in which I firmly believe and for which I will continue to fight."

Lucy's Story

"My interest in reproductive health began when I was young teen growing up in Vermont. I started to realize that so much of health related to women was in the shadows. It was something you could only whisper about in the bathroom or talk about with your mom. Girls got their period and couldn't tell anyone. We had to hide our tampons when we went to the bathrooms. There was so much shame. When I went to college, I became more interested in the health field. I read the book Half the Sky about women's health world-wide and this opened my eyes to the suffering and discrimination faced by so many in this world. This inspired me to put my energy into women's health back home. I began working as a medical assistant at Planned Parenthood in Williston, VT.

The first thing that struck me at Planned Parenthood was a routine question that came up during the interview. They asked, "Do you feel safe working for an organization where people's lives are threatened by working here?" The fact that people's lives are threatened shocked and saddened me. Almost everything that we did was family planning, pap tests, STI screenings, and routine Gyn care. Abortion was only a small part of it! It just doesn't make any sense. But this is the sad reality given the current stigma and sociopolitical climate surrounding women's health today.

My job as a health care associate involved bringing the patients to the room, taking their medical history, giving vaccines and birth control, and providing a lot of counseling. I loved doing birth control counseling with teenagers. It made me realize how little people know not only about their own health, but also about the general options out there. Because sex has become this issue that you aren't supposed to talk about, we don't give teenagers enough education. When I was a teen, I knew about condoms and birth control pills and that was it. I enjoyed having the conversations that weren’t happening elsewhere. It made me realize how much we need to work on sex education in our schools.

I then became involved in medication abortion counseling. When I started working at Planned Parenthood, I knew that I was pro-choice for others. I always felt that people should be able to make whatever choice is right for them. But working in the abortion program I became much more aware of the many reasons why people would make the choice to terminate a pregnancy and even reasons why I would make that choice. Often when we think about abortion, we think of teenagers accidentally getting pregnant or even people in their twenties who aren't ready to have a baby yet. But what I saw was actually much more diverse than that. Many of my patients were in their thirties, already had kids, and were making this choice because they just couldn't take on another child or couldn't afford another mouth to feed. A lot of times it was a very painful decision for people. And what I witnessed was that society makes it even harder. Many were plagued by feelings of being judged that they were doing something wrong even though they knew deep down that it was the right choice for them.

I have always been interested in medicine but working at Planned Parenthood shifted my path towards providing family planning and abortion care in rural areas of this state. Many patients were driving hours from home, from tiny towns, to receive basic gynecological care. Traveling that far puts a huge burden on patients, especially for issues that required multiple visits. Many were especially worried about the financial aspect. It just doesn’t make sense that routine care is that hard to access. But in a rural state with minimal providers we are faced with asking our patients to travel to get the care they need. My dream for Vermont is to incorporate more abortion care into primary care offices in rural areas. In Burlington there are a lot of great options, but outside of this radius, it’s limited. There are places to go but they are only open one or two days a week or maybe only have one provider. You have to go to Planned Parenthood to get these services because it's not integrated into basic medical care. And this feeds the shame surrounding it.

We think of Vermont as a liberal state, but when you get to more rural areas, there is a lot of shame around both abortion and pregnancy. I think part of the problem is that abortion care is so separate from the rest of care. It seems crazy to me that doctors so readily prescribe other medications that carry much greater health risk, such as opioids, and won't provide the abortion pill. A medication abortion is a relatively simple process and I think, especially for rural Vermont, we need to do more research into how we can expand medication abortion protocol and access. When women were not able to have a medication abortion in Williston due to a variety of reasons, we had to refer them to Burlington, forcing them to drive even farther. We had some women who came in too late and couldn’t get an abortion. Someone might think they are six weeks pregnant but then find out at the appointment she is 26 weeks and out of options. That’s a hard place to be in. Going through an abortion is one thing, but if you end up needing to continue the pregnancy, support is often lacking. Without access and support individuals can become desperate and put their own health at risk to end a pregnancy because they know continuing the pregnancy is not right for them. I think reproductive freedom is so important because even just knowing the option exists and being able to decide creates such a different dynamic for people. To be presented with all options creates a feeling of control over the situation. Abortion is not something anyone has to do, but it’s something they can decide to do. And that decision can be really empowering. It can make a terrible situation much more tolerable. I think the simple fact of having many options from which we can choose can make all the difference.

I feel committed to providing this care in Vermont. I am currently in medical school at UVM and my dream is to go into family medicine but focus on women's health as a whole. I want to incorporate abortion care into my practice as a primary care doctor. There are so many aspects of health that are different for women but lots of research has to do with men's healthcare. The result is that women are getting substandard care. I am drawn to family practice instead of specializing in obstetrics and gynecology because I want to be the doctor that young teenage girls can see for their primary care but with whom they can also discuss all their options concerning birth control, abortion, and pregnancy. I want to be a familiar and trusted person for them as they go through what is often an emotional and sensitive process. I would love to work in a place like Morrisville, where I grew up. I feel committed to being a part of the change that rural Vermont needs.

The reaction that people had to my work in abortion care often surprised me. There were people in my life who up until that point were very amicable but upon learning where I worked, were horrified. They would say things like, “you murder babies” when they found out. But at the same time, I had people in my life who were very passionate about being pro-life but were willing to sit down and have a conversation about it. These conversations proved extremely helpful in learning to find our similarities despite differing views. I have a good friend who works in the healthcare field and is very pro-life. I was nervous to tell her that I worked at Planned Parenthood. But when I told her, she was really happy for me. She pointed out that both of us are working to improve women’s health and committed to giving voice to those that don’t have one. Ultimately, we are both working to decrease the number of abortions. In many ways we are fighting for the same thing. We are compassionate. We want to help people and empower them to take care of themselves and their family. Finding our similarities was really eye opening for me. And I think it’s so important to shift away from a polarized conversation. We need to move away from the dichotomy of murders versus people who don’t respect women. I think the underlying meaning of our beliefs are fundamentally similar. This is a much more productive place to come from and I hope to see the conversation shift to include a recognition of our common humanity.

When I say that I am pro-choice, not only does this mean that I believe women who need abortions should have access, but that women who want to carry the pregnancy should never be forced to have an abortion. People need to be supported in their pregnancy process, no matter what the outcome is. Being pro-choice is about allowing people to make the choice based on what is right for them and not on what society says they should do. To me, reproductive freedom means having not only the choice, but also the access to make the decision that is best for you, no matter what that decision is. Proposition 5 is a powerful statement on Vermont’s part. Putting reproductive freedom into our constitution means that we take women seriously and indicates we are finally seeing women as equals by saying that their rights matter. As a young Vermonter, hoping to stay and raise a family in Vermont, this means a lot to me. Reproductive freedom goes beyond this one issue. It’s not just about abortion. It is about saying “yes, we respect women’s voices, we hear you and we see you.” Vermonters are deeply dedicated to their community and we are fortunate to live in a place where there truly is space to make these changes. Vermont can be a leader and set an example that other states can follow. We will set a precedent committed to equality. If we want young people to stay in Vermont and invest in this state, recognizing reproductive freedom as a human right is a huge step forward in supporting the next generation of Vermonters. When I look for the place that I want to live and raise my kids, potentially daughters, I want to live in a place where they are respected, considered equals, and their rights aren’t up for debate. I hope Vermont can be that place."

Paul's Story

"When does “Human life/personhood” begin?” was a question I dealt with my entire professional career. As a Reproductive Endocrinologist, I assisted many couples in their pursuit of having children through Advanced Reproductive Technologies (ART) such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). There were times however, when couples requested the destruction of their embryos for various personal reasons. I personally needed to be comfortable with my removing embryos from in vitro life support and allow them to die. I had to feel that it was morally and ethically appropriate.

Science can certainly tell us if we are dealing with “living human tissue.” The problem is that it is not science’s place to determine when an organism develops to the point where it deserves the respect of being called “a human being/person”. One is a physical definition; the other is a metaphysical definition.

Science is capable of growing human cells in cultures, which no one would consider a human being even though they have the same genetic composition as a one-cell embryo at the time of fertilization. Science is also capable of cloning animals from a single cell without the introduction of sperm. Although human cloning is prohibitive, it is technologically feasible.

The US is becoming more culturally diverse. Various religions view “personhood” differently and state that it lies on a spectrum. The official Roman Catholic statement, although not considered infallible teaching (ex cathedra), states that “ensoulment” occurs at the time of conception, with the union of the sperm and the egg. This is a relatively recent pronouncement, appearing in Pope Pius XI’s 1930 marriage encyclical Casti Connubii. In the early church, because of a lack of medical knowledge, “quickening” (the perception of fetal movement occurring at approximately the fifth month) was thought by some to be the time when the fetus was considered a “human person.” St. Thomas Aquinas, an early Roman Catholic theologian (1300s), recognized the physical and spiritual interrelationship of all living things: plants, animals, and humans. The spiritual dimension was called the “soul”. Aquinas speculated that a human being proceeds through various developmental stages (hominization). In a typical scenario, the early embryo at the time of fertilization would have a “vegetative soul” drawing its nutrition from the mother. As the embryo continues to develop to a fetus, it attains a sensory, or an “animate soul”. At some time in this developmental process the organism is invested with a human “rational soul."

Various religions view personhood differently: it is a spectrum. The Roman Catholic Church in the 1930’s declared that human life began at conception, prior to that it was when the mother perceived fetal movement. Certain Jewish denominations do not consider the fetus a person until after it takes its first breath at birth. Other religions, non-theistic religions, or atheists fall somewhere in between.

The 1st sentence of the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. By arbitrarily, stating that an embryo, or non-viable fetus is a person supports the religious belief of one religion over another and should be perceived to be unconstitutional under our Federal Constitution. A woman’s personal choice in consultation with her health care provider ultimately needs to be protected."

Sandy's Story

"I grew up in the age when not only was abortion illegal, but birth control/contraception was not available unless you were married. And if a girl got pregnant back then, too often the shame and feelings of disgrace were palpable. You would hear words like ‘slut,’ ‘loose,’ ‘easy,’ and other hurtful terms. One of my good high school friends, from a ‘well respected” Irish Catholic family, did not come to school one day. In fact, she never came back to school and I never saw her again. Looking back now there is little doubt she got pregnant and was sent far away, probably to a convent where nuns dealt with unmarried pregnant wayward girls.

In college, a close friend got pregnant. She was not ready to be a mother and wanted to stay in school and finish. She had an illegal abortion in a back alley. She almost bled to death and ended up in the hospital...the one that sits at the top of Burlington, VT. I had another friend who got pregnant right after college. She was hoping one day to marry her boyfriend. But she was not married yet, and her family would not accept their daughter pregnant “out of wedlock”. Back then if you had a doctor declare you unfit to be a mother, it was possible to have a doctor in a hospital perform an abortion. This friend’s father was a doctor who signed the paperwork and forced his daughter to agree to an abortion that she did not want. Both friends eventually married their boyfriends and went on to have a wonderful family.

In both cases, because of the shame and stigma around unmarried girls having sex, and getting pregnant, my friends paid a price that no one should have to pay. Neither had the legal right to choose freely what they felt was best for them at the time.

Years later, I found myself a single mom and unintentionally pregnant as well. Without hesitation, though, I had the legal right to make a choice that was right for me. I went straight to my local Planned Parenthood. They treated me with respect and kindness and I got a legal, safe abortion. I have no regrets and to this day it gives me chills to think what I would have done to terminate my pregnancy if I did not have the right to make my own decision. I can’t image the desperation a female must feel.

If a female is not capable of making decisions about her own body, how is it that others feel that same female is capable making life and death decisions about another living being forced upon her? The irony of those who want women and girls to endure forced pregnancy is beyond words."

Sharon's Story

"In January of 1986, I was living in southern Vermont.  I was four and a half months pregnant with my fourth child, when a routine blood test and then a sonic scan confirmed the tragic news that our baby had a rare and fatal birth defect called anencephaly, and could not live outside the womb, lacking most of the brain. My doctor explained all this in person to my husband and me, with great kindness and sensitivity.  He said that only a few months before, another mother in his practice had also been carrying a child with anencephaly.  It was such a rare disorder, that he never expected to see it again. Dr. Backus advised what he called a therapeutic abortion, because to carry the child to full term would likely result in a very difficult birth that would put my health at risk.

I was able to meet with the other mother, which was very helpful, for support. My parents were in Florida for the winter, so we cried together over the phone.  My husband and I decided to follow my doctor’s advice, and go to Dartmouth Medical Center for the abortion. I remember the week between learning of the diagnosis and going to the hospital as one of the saddest and heartbreaking times of my life.  My husband was with me for the whole time at the hospital, while my cousin and her family took care of our children.

The care we received at Dartmouth Medical Center was compassionate as well as medically excellent. Our child, a girl we named Heather, died in the birth canal. We were able to hold her tiny body afterwards, and we have a card with her footprints on it, made by the caring nurses.  A local funeral director helped transport Heather’s body back home and charged us nothing for her services. Heather is buried in Williamsville, VT in a family plot where my parents now too are buried.

We grieved and continue to grieve the loss of this child.  I wanted to share my story with you because of the negative and insensitive rhetoric I have heard about what people call “late term” abortions. My story is a good example of the type of person who has an abortion in the second or third trimester of pregnancy, someone who has received terrible news from her doctor and who has an incredibly sad choice to make and who has every right to make the choice that is right for her and her family, in consultation with her doctor."

Sue's Story

"Do you remember girls whispering in the junior high school hallways about a girl jumping up and down on her bed or throwing herself down the stairs, hoping to induce a miscarriage? Do you remember those girls who quietly withdrew from high school without explanation and never came back? Do you have a friend who had an illegal abortion in the back of a car? Do you remember your mother telling you she’d never heard of birth control before she had you? Or later, that only married women could get a diaphragm from the doctor? I remember.

Did you lie awake at night worrying that you might be pregnant, knowing you couldn’t tell your parents? Worrying that you’d have to leave school, and ruin your life? Knowing that there was no help for you if you were pregnant? I did, and many young women still do.

Luckily, I discovered Planned Parenthood when I was 18. I went for a checkup and got on the birth control pill. I skipped high school classes to take my sexually active friends to the Planned Parenthood clinic to get them on it. There was a sliding fee scale and it was the first I’d ever encountered. They helped everyone, regardless of age, finances, gender, or marital status. They were confidential. No one told my mother I’d been there, although the volunteer was a friend of hers.

Luckily, abortion became legal in 1973. My friends had access to safe and legal abortions while they were still in college and high school. They continued their educations and had children when they were ready for them.

I remember the days before abortion was legal. I never want to see women dying from back alley abortions again. Planned Parenthood has been a healthcare provider for women for 100 years, and we need them now more than ever."