Defense of Planned Parenthood not blunted by letter writer's attack or senator's vote

On Aug. 7, Alaska Dispatch News ran a letter to the editor directed at me written by a woman named Pam Siegfried. In that letter, Ms. Siegfried states that if my mother had had access to Planned Parenthood at the time she was pregnant with me, I would have been "medical waste," or "parted out like a junked car." In other words, I would have been gruesomely aborted.

Ms. Siegfried then spun out an imaginary auction where parts of my dead fetus would have been sold. "I have a liver," she wrote, "I hear $25. $25. Who will give me $30? I have $30. Who will give me $35?" These words shocked me. I knew that there would be responses, but I was not expecting anything like this. My shock turned into disgust and then into sadness.

Before I go any further, I should clarify a few points. I'm aware that I made myself a target by speaking out in defense of Planned Parenthood in response to the recent hoax videos released by anti-choice activists. In that defense, which was quoted in an earlier article by the ADN, I mentioned that I grew up in Russia and that I was given up by my biological mother at age 6. However, this must have been confusing. Perhaps there was a notion that Russia, or the former Soviet Union, does not provide abortion.

This is not true; abortion became legal in Russia in all cases in the 1920s. It is far more common in Russia than it is in the United States. It became even more common within the Soviet period. Now, I must point out that during this time Russia had the highest number of abortion cases around the world, whereas if many women like my mother had had access to contraception and education, the rates of abortion would have gone down.

However, in Russia, this is not the case. Access to comprehensive and medically accurate health care and contraception is almost impossible. After the revolution, the government decided that it wasn't going to provide any education all across the country and its controlled territories. Many people were left clueless about basic concepts of sexuality. By banning access to contraception, women were forced to make choices in the event of pregnancy and my biological mother chose to keep me.

As women like me have stated over and over, Planned Parenthood does much more than abortion. They are a women's health organization primarily and provide services like contraception, sexual education and STD testing. Even beyond all of these services, Planned Parenthood provides compassionate and unbiased care that is critical for the experience of the patient.

In the same way that Ms. Siegfried's letter was distressing, I was deeply saddened by what Sen. Lisa Murkowski did last week. Murkowski claims that she had an amendment lined up and that her vote to defund Planned Parenthood wasn't really a vote to defund Planned Parenthood. But that's not what it looked or felt like. It looked and felt like a U.S. senator caving to people like Ms. Siegfried, abandoning a women's health organization because she knows that the Ms. Siegfrieds of the world comprise a large portion of the modern Republican base, and Murkowski's primary opponent may ride them to victory.

I will close with this: Ms. Siegfried must know that the claims she and others are making based on those videos are lies. Donating to fetal tissue research -- which has saved the lives of countless people, many of them children -- is not "selling baby parts." Covering transportation costs is not the same as having an "auction." Surely she knows this. Sen. Murkowski surely knows this. Even the makers of the videos should know this. It is sad that they apparently feel so certain in their beliefs that the truth is just an inconvenience to brush aside.

I will keep standing with Planned Parenthood because access to reproductive health is an essential right for all women, and Planned Parenthood provides that right with more compassion and knowledge than any other organization I know.

Zhenia Peterson is a student in UAA's social work program.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.