PORTLAND — Last fall, I made the decision to leave my position with the city of Portland and return to work that is near and dear to my heart at Planned Parenthood of Northern New England.

Earlier in my professional career, I had the opportunity to work as an advocate for women’s health care. The work was often rewarding as I got to be a part of moving policies forward that provided access to health care for Maine women and ensured that abortion was safe and legal in our communities.

But to be honest, at times I found the work taxing. I struggled with what felt like a black-and-white view of something that is often a gray issue for people. While the labels “pro-choice” and “pro-life” matter a great deal to many people who care deeply about these issues, I felt they limited the conversation and didn’t reflect the complexity of how most people actually think and feel about abortion today.

My decision to return to this work was driven largely by the fact that Planned Parenthood of Northern New England is changing the conversation. Labels simply don’t define the health care provider or its work.

For many, Planned Parenthood health centers are the place they get professional, non-judgmental and compassionate care.

For others, we are a source of information about how to prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

We’re also here for moms and dads who are uncertain about how to talk to their teens about sex – or just don’t know how. In fact, nearly one in five women in this country will enter a Planned Parenthood health center at some point in her life.

So instead of talking about what divides us, I want to be a part of the conversation about what unites us.

n A majority of us believe that women should have access to preventive health care and family planning, as it allows for responsible decision-making, creates healthy families and is the most effective way to reduce the need for abortions.

To that end, Planned Parenthood of Northern New England provides a broad range of preventive health care services with a focus on underserved and at-risk populations, including low-income women and teens. More than 95 percent of these services are life-saving cancer screenings, birth control, prevention of and treatment for STIs, breast health services, Pap tests and sexual health counseling.

n A majority of us want women to have accurate information about all options. We think information should support a woman, help her make a decision for herself and enable her to take care of her health and well-being.

n A majority of us agree that decisions about whether to choose adoption, end a pregnancy or raise a child need to be left to a woman, her family and her faith, with the counsel of her doctor or health care provider. We come to this viewpoint because we know that abortion is a deeply personal and an often complex decision for a woman, and we can’t make that decision for her.

n A majority of us agree that women should not have to turn to politicians for advice about birth control, mammograms or cancer treatments. We believe that politicians should not be involved in a woman’s personal medical decisions about her pregnancy.

Sadly, this belief is juxtaposed against a national landscape where more than half of all women of reproductive age are living in states where access is being restricted by their state legislatures.

Today, on the 41st anniversary of the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, I am heartened that in contrast to other state and federal lawmakers across the country, here in Maine, our congressional delegation, bipartisan majorities in the Legislature and other state leaders understand that abortion must remain a safe and legal medical procedure for a woman to consider if and when she needs it. The reasons and experiences that have led them to this conviction are their own, which may or may not fit neatly in a particular category.

Now, four decades after Roe, the conversation isn’t about being pro-choice or pro-life. These terms don’t necessarily define who we are or how we each have come to understand this issue.

Instead of putting people in one corner or the other, we need to focus the conversation on what unites us, which is a respect for the real-life decisions that women and their families face every day.

— Special to the Press Herald