By: Casey O’Neill, RPE Regional Coordinator - Survivor Support Services
People are often surprised to hear that Planned Parenthood of Greater New York is the provider for victims and survivors of sexual violence.
At first glance, our Survivor Support Services do not appear to fit in with the typical reproductive health care services associated with Planned Parenthood, but when you stop to think about it, it is not particularly strange. Survivors’ access to healing resources, counseling, and reproductive rights are inextricably linked. To support survivors and to support abortion access is to believe undeniably, wholeheartedly, and unshakably in the right to bodily autonomy, which is at the root of everything we do at Planned Parenthood.
When a person is sexually assaulted, they are being robbed of their bodily autonomy, their sense of safety, and their power over their own body. When that act of violence results in unintended pregnancy and the government restricts the survivor of the assault from accessing abortion services, they are re-traumatizing the individual. Much like the assault itself, anti-abortion laws rob the victim of their autonomy. So far, at least 15 states have abortion bans in place and several of those states do not allow exceptions for cases of rape or incest. But it would not matter if it were every state that allowed exceptions — It wouldn’t make it better because abortion bans of every kind hurt survivors everywhere.
They hurt the 10-year-old who becomes pregnant after being sexually assaulted by a man more than twice her age; the trans college student impregnated after he was raped by 4 men on his walk home from the campus library, and the partner coerced into “sex” and impregnated by their significant other who wrongfully believed “it’s not rape if it’s a relationship” or who interferes with their birth control without their consent. These are horrific, twisted, and real assaults that occur every minute of every day. We know because some of us read about them in the news. We know because some of us answer their calls for help. Abortion bans hurt real people. They hurt survivors.
Even exceptions are a nightmare because they force victims and survivors to tiptoe the line between criminal and victim by having to prove their pregnancy is the result of an assault. We already live in a culture in which survivors are not believed, and these “exceptions” create another barrier to service. It forces survivors to fight to be believed when they are already grappling with the difficulty of disclosing the details of their assault in order to receive the health care they deserve. No survivor should ever have to prove their victimhood.
As advocates, it is our role to help victims and survivors restore their sense of control and safety, to connect them to care, help them heal, pursue justice, and define their life according to their own terms. If carrying a rape-related pregnancy is not something a survivor wants on their journey, then you better believe we’re going to fight like hell to ensure it is not.
We cannot and we will not sit by idly and allow politicians and legislators to violate the bodily autonomy, control, and sense of safety that every person, especially every person with a uterus, deserves and has a right to. We will not allow them to revictimize and retraumatize survivors, to stand in the way of their healing. And we will not allow them to model and reinforce a culture of non-consent in which the powerful routinely feel entitled and emboldened to violate, attack, and rob others of what does not belong to them to make decisions that impact the rest of their lives.
It’s not strange or surprising, it’s actually very simple. To support abortion access is to support bodily autonomy is to support survivors of sexual violence. We must not forget. We won’t.
Planned Parenthood of Greater New York Survivor Support Services offers counseling, hospital and legal accompaniment, a 24/7 confidential hotline, resources, and so much more to support survivors in their health and healing. Click here to connect with a counselor.