The anecdote about an abortion protester one day making an appointment in the clinic they demonize was always just that to me–an anecdote, something plausible given the religious right’s penchant for hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance but something also unconfirmed.
Only now, MarieClaire has data.
Data doesn’t exist on just how many women who were raised in this faith actually patronize Planned Parenthood in private, which is a result of the very reason many of them go there: It provides anonymity. We do know that 13 percent of abortions conducted in this country are for women who identify as evangelical protestants, in addition to the 17 percent for more mainline protestants like Lutherans or Methodists, according to a 2014 study by the Guttmacher Institute. When you add in Catholics, that number rises to more than half.
I was raised in an evangelical culture myself and, while doing research for this story, I was taken aback by how often one Christian woman’s experience with Planned Parenthood led me to another’s, and another’s, and another’s. What I once believed was simply a handful of anecdotal instances became an undeniable trend, one that reached into many different backgrounds and beliefs. Some of the women in this article have left the faith in which they were raised, either altogether or adopted more progressive forms of it; others, like Elizabeth, still identify as evangelical Christian, a broad label that often indicates a born-again protestant who adheres to a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. Some of the women are from cities, others small towns. The common thread that runs through all their stories: Visiting Planned Parenthood was a risk—but one worth taking.
“It’s a very difficult thing for them,” says Lachina, the Planned Parenthood chaplain, who echoes the fact that secrecy is critical for the young Christian women who visit clinics. “They certainly don’t want their parents to know that they’re going to a Planned Parenthood facility,” he says. “They want to be anonymous.”
More valuable than even anonymity, Planned Parenthood provides religious women with honest medical information they likely aren’t getting anywhere else: Research published in 2012 in the Journal of Women’s Health found that weekly church attendance made women half as likely to be receiving any sexual or reproductive health services.
“They gave me an exam and birth control to help with my menstrual cycles, because they said my cycle might be causing problems with my cyst,” Elizabeth says of her first Planned Parenthood appointment. “It was an education.”
Still, the pressure of the community is hard to shake. Evangelical culture tends to be intentionally exclusionary, creating a sense of us-versus-them, and these women had engaged with what they were taught was the very worst of “them.”
Rachel*, a pastor’s wife, felt that pressure fiercely. “I grew up in a strict religious community. Planned Parenthood was the devil,” Rachel says. “Our church talked about Planned Parenthood as a gas chamber and part of the new Holocaust.”
If you think you can stomach the finer points of Evangelical propaganda, read more here.