ITHACA, N.Y. – Dozens of men and women clad in pink gathered in front of Ithaca’s Planned Parenthood building at 620 W. Seneca Street on Friday to rally against proposed cuts to the organization under the American Health Care Act of 2017.

A national event hosting protests throughout the country last week, the sunset rally was a means for Planned Parenthood advocates to express their demands, asking the Senate to protect access to the services that Planned Parenthood provides.

Catherine Ramos, a Planned Parenthood advocate from Elmira, said the AHCA was one of the worst bills for the continued support of women’s rights, making it harder for people to access to important preventative care such as birth control methods, cancer screenings and STD treatments and testing. 

“(The AHCA) makes it harder to prevent unintended pregnancy, makes it harder to have a healthy pregnancy, and harder to raise a family,” Ramos said. “It would gut maternity care, roll back Medicaid coverage and allow insurance companies to discriminate.” 

Catherine Ramos, Planned Parenthood advocate from Elmira, speaks to crowd.

Planned Parenthood previously stated in a press release that over 100,000 Medicaid recipients in New York State rely on their services annually. If the Affordable Care Act is repealed, Planned Parenthood funding and reimbursements through federal programs like Medicaid will go with it.

Savannah Gonzalez, a 14-year-old Ithaca native and new patient to Planned Parenthood, stood before the rallying crowd and voiced her concern with proposed cuts and threats to access under the AHCA.

“I have been a patient here for eight months now. I originally came here because I want to protect myself from any type of harm that sex can bring me, from STI’s to pregnancy,” Gonzalez said. “If (the AHCA) takes away access to Planned Parenthood, pregnancy rates will skyrocket and STI rates will also increase. Many people will not have the right to decide what decisions to make for their own bodies.”

Savannah Gonzalez, 14-year-old Ithaca advocate for Planned Parenthood.

Abortion services, which play a major part in opposition to Planned Parenthood, are often treated as the ‘black sheep’ of services, another local advocate, Rachael Behling, said. 

“(Abortion services) are only a small factor of what Planned Parenthood provides – it’s important to point out that safe and legal abortions also save lives,” Behling said. “Integrated abortion care is essential to reproductive health. Unwanted pregnancies happen in various ways that some people can’t understand, and when it does happen, those people deserve the same quality of care as anyone else who needs a procedure to improve their heath and quality of life.” 

Ramos, who said she had grown up in a conservative-Republican-Christian home, shared an anecdote from her young adulthood with the people joined around her outside on Friday evening. Raised with an abstinence-only sex education, Ramos recalled asking her mother what sex was when she was a child. Her mother replied: “It doesn’t matter because you’re not having it.”

“Like all good cliches, this one peaked when my sister got pregnant at 16 – abstinence-only failed,” Ramos said. “For my sister, this had a huge impact – she did finish high school, but just barely, and it was a struggle. She never went to college, and she never really had a professional career. This was her dream, and I’m happy for her – she’s always wanted to be a mother and she’s good at it.” 

Rachael Behling, Planned Parenthood advocate from Ithaca.

However, while Ramos pointed out that having children may have been her sister’s dream, but it was a fantasy she did not share. As a woman in her mid-20’s, Ramos said she paid a visit to a gynecologist to ask about sterilization procedures. Her questions were met with disapproval by her doctor, who replied that she wouldn’t have the conversation, attempting to convince Ramos that she would change her mind.

“I have known since birth that I don’t want to have children,” Ramos said. “I asked (the gynecologist) if was okay to have a child at my current age – she said ‘of course.’ I replied and asked her why she thought I was old enough to have a child and be responsible for it, but not old enough to decide that I don’t want that responsibility… she didn’t have an answer.”

Upon moving out and going to college, Ramos said she made her first visit to Planned Parenthood seeking birth control – but what she found was much more. Ramos said she finally found the education she had been seeking, support without shame or judgment, and answers to her questions. To this day, she said Planned Parenthood is her primary resource for seeking help in women’s health.

“(The employees) at Planned Parenthood never challenged my sense of self or questioned judgment – rather, they sought to inform and empower me,” she said. “While reproductive health remains highly controversial, the majority of this country wants access. I want every American to have the choices that I have. I want every American to have the freedom of choice when it comes to healthcare.”

Members of the rally take a lap around the block.

After everyone had a chance to speak, members of the rally took an opportunity to walk around the block, bearing pink signs, glowsticks and cheers. Some even took an opportunity to make an additional lap around the block in the opposite direction.

I support Planned Parenthood for all the services they provide and will be forever grateful for everyone here tonight who does too,” Behling said. “Because of Planned Parenthood, lives are being saved – in that regard you are all the true pro-choice and pro-lifers out there.”

All photos courtesy of Ashleigh McGuire/Planned Parenthood.

Alyvia is a Crime Reporter with The Ithaca Voice. She graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in Journalism and Photography.