Women demonstrate during a pro-choice rally in New York, July 10, 2018. Credit: Julie Jacobson | AP

The first time I visited the Baltimore City Health Department’s Druid Clinic I was 17. I wasn’t going to the clinic for myself. A friend of mine had told me she thought she was pregnant but was too nervous to go to the clinic to take a test alone, so I offered to go with her. When we arrived she was still nervous, so I offered to take a test as well.

Good thing I did. I was pregnant — and shocked. I didn’t have insurance. I started to panic.

A nurse at the clinic sat down with me and asked if I had expected this. She asked if the father knew and if I felt comfortable telling him. I let her know I was nervous to tell him and my mother. She told me to take a deep breath, to be open and honest with my loved ones, and that she would help me navigate this time in my life. She counseled me through my options and eventually helped me find an OB/GYN.

Because of the clinic, I have two healthy, happy daughters.

I’m also healthy and happy. I work in the nursing field, so I know the importance of regular doctors’ visits, especially for women. I have a job that I love, but the insurance is unaffordable, so I am on medical assistance. I know that I am healthy because over the years I have been able to rely on and afford various services from the clinic — pap smears, birth control, cancer screenings and other important women’s health services. Without the clinic, I don’t know where I would be today. Going to the doctor for a basic checkup is totally unaffordable for me when paying out of pocket.

I am fearful of what may happen in the near future to this clinic and others like it that serve 4 million women like me around the country. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is threatening these clinics and the health and well-being of women. A proposed rule would cut funding from any clinic that performs abortions or is affiliated with those that do. It would also no longer allow doctors, nurses and other providers from referring pregnant women to abortions or even discussing them — a “gag” rule.

I chose not to have an abortion. But I knew all of my options because my health care providers at the clinic let me know I had a number of choices and should choose the best one for me. The clinic was my only place to turn for affordable medical care and reliable support and counseling.

What will happen when we don’t have a choice? What will happen when we can no longer rely on trusted doctors and nurses to provide us with education and empowerment? What will happen to the 1 in 3 women in Baltimore City who rely on clinics like Druid Clinic for contraceptive services?

I’d like the administration to walk in our shoes — women’s shoes and especially women like me who can’t afford basic primary-care services. Have they ever worried that they wouldn’t be able to afford a yearly checkup? Have they ever gone to a doctor expecting that doctor to withhold treatment options?

I trust the providers at the clinic so much that I plan to send my daughters there this summer — not only for medical care, but also for education and counseling. The staff at the clinic provides many clients with a mentor, outside of a parent, someone to speak more freely and comfortably with, who can sometimes be more credible to a teenager than a parent.

Imagine that you have diabetes. You go to your local health center for information about treatment. Your doctor examines you, and then tells you that you can take either take a “miracle” pill or try a “special” diet.

“I was on insulin before,” you say. “It’s what I came to you for.”

“I can’t prescribe ….”

I hope my daughters don’t have to live in a world where the leaders of the country don’t respect women. Don’t care that we, like all patients, deserve to know all of their options when it comes to health care.

If you are a woman, I encourage you to speak out — our health is at risk. The government needs to hear us. There is no shame in taking care of ourselves. We must stand up for ourselves. Join me, and let the government know that women are important and so is their right to affordable, honest health care.

Melanie Repert is a receptionist at Brookdale Senior Living. She wrote this for the Baltimore Sun.

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