As I listened to the radio – 3 shot dead at Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, my stomach turned. Not just because we were close-by in Boulder, Colorado when it happened, but because it brings back all of the fears that any one of us who has ever worked at a Planned Parenthood clinic has felt deep in our cells.

It was 20 years ago when I joined Planned Parenthood of Mid-Michigan to do fundraising and political action. I was young and steeped in my feminist pedagogy. One of my first tasks on the job during my orientation was to attend an abortion from start to finish, with permission of course. I was someone who would be speaking for the organization about why women should have the right to choose, I would talk to legislators in Lansing and DC, I would ask for money from all walks of life to help keep us funded. I needed to understand what it was like to have an abortion, to understand how it worked at Planned Parenthood.

It was somewhere between taking the position and attending that abortion – after I attended a counseling session, where a woman was given all of her options, after I read about the many types of legislation enacted to prevent a woman from making a decision, after I knew no matter what that choice is as fundamental as breathing, that I also knew, though only 21 years old and unmarried, that I would probably never make that choice myself.

“Probably” being the operative word. The truth about abortion is that no one really knows until they are faced with the decision. And it is not an easy decision. One of my jobs (though thinking back it wasn’t stated in my job description!) was to meet regularly with the protestors that stood outside our clinic. The thought was that it would humanize us. They would realize that we are people with parents, spouses, or kids of our own. And if there were any threat of violence, maybe the regular protestors would take it upon themselves to warn us.

Ironically, over the years many of the women who once stood outside protesting, holding those heinous signs, found themselves coming inside because they were the one accidentally pregnant. And so often, their response was – “well it’s ok for me because ______.”

The only reason it’s ok for anyone is because we ALL have the choice. And because even 42 years after Roe v Wade people are giving up their lives to ensure that choice.

And I wonder if people truly understand what Planned Parenthood means – beyond the rhetoric – it means a place where doctors are willing to provide abortions in a medical landscape where too many are afraid – especially in the remote areas where it may take a day just to get to a clinic, it means a place where women who cannot afford birth control, can, in some clinics it means access to pre-natal care for someone who would otherwise go without, it means choice when too many are lacking choice even though it’s legal.

During my time working at Planned Parenthood, there were 3 abortion providers killed around the country. Although we live under the liberal bubble of Ann Arbor, each time, it felt frightening to go to work for some time. I, like so many of my co-workers, didn’t always share where I worked with others out of fear.

As my thoughts and heart go out to everyone in Colorado Springs fighting to keep the Planned Parenthood doors open in spite of their own fears, I feel saddened by our deep capacity for violence and hate as humans, turning the statement “ignorance is bliss” upside down. I am also struck with deep gratitude for so many who work at Planned Parenthood clinics around the country who are committed to maintaining our freedom, ensuring that each and every one of us has a choice if the time comes. It is a task that often goes unrecognized and definitely unseen. For myself, after my five years there, I felt burnt out from the constant debate, the slander and fighting against a loud and powerful minority. I don’t think I realized so completely from inside the forest, how important this work is, but from the outside, I can only say, “Thank you to those who do it every day.” I don’t think I ever took that much pride in having been one of those people – but today, I do.