Last weekend’s massive anti-Trump marches in Portland, Augusta, Washington, D.C., and scores of other locations left one big question largely unanswered:

How, some wondered, do you take all that passion – deep as it so clearly runs – and focus it laser-like on a specific target, a tangible goal, something worth fighting for?

Here’s one: While there’s still time, save Planned Parenthood.

On Thursday, for the first time ever, I visited the Planned Parenthood clinic and offices on Congress Street in Portland.

No holier-than-thou protesters greeted me at the entrance. That happens on Friday, the one day of the week the clinic performs abortions.

It’s also the day that, however unfairly, has too often come to define Planned Parenthood: Religious zealots, waging a sidewalk war against the right to maintain control over one’s own body, loudly shaming women as they enter the clinic for what can be the most wrenching medical procedure of their lives.

“In the past, we’ve had the privilege of being able to be private about (health care) and to have it be a part of your life that you don’t make a public thing,” said Jillian McLeod-Tardiff of Portland, one of three patients who agreed to sit down and talk about Planned Parenthood’s anything-but-certain future.

Their worry: Republicans in Congress, giddy over their impending repeal of the Affordable Care Act, have also vowed to pull the financial plug on an organization that for 100 years has done infinitely more for women’s (and men’s) health than simply perform abortions.

“But now, this is not normal,” McLeod-Tardiff continued. “And the world we are living in is not safe. And we can’t say for sure that our care will be here forever. And so if there’s going to be a time to step up, this is it.”

McLeod-Tardiff works for a private vendor at the Portland International Jetport. She first visited a Planned Parenthood clinic while attending college in Boston – she had no health insurance, yet needed help both deciding on and obtaining birth control.

She now has health insurance through her employer, but still prefers Planned Parenthood over other health-care options – a choice reinforced every time she sits down in the waiting room.

“You see people of all ages,” McLeod-Tardiff said. “People with kids. People by themselves. People who are with their partners. People of all genders. People of all ethnicities.”

Which is a point often lost on those, starting with House Speaker Paul Ryan, who would strip Planned Parenthood of any and all Medicaid reimbursements – and thus deprive Maine’s four Planned Parenthood clinics of 25 percent of their operating revenue.

The truth is that abortions account for less than 5 percent of the services provided by Planned Parenthood. And not a dime of taxpayer money goes toward paying for those abortions, thanks to an annually renewed prohibition that Ryan and Company now want to make permanent.

But eliminate Medicaid funding completely? For wellness exams, cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections for women and men (who, by the way, account for 13 percent of the Portland clinic’s patient load)?

Why do that?

“I think it’s really about power,” said Eden Dyer, who lives on Munjoy Hill in Portland and has endometriosis – a painful disorder in which tissue that lines the uterus wall grows outside the uterus as well.

Dyer, who is transgender, sees Planned Parenthood as a place of limitless compassion, not narrow judgment. A place where a decade of severe and chronic pelvic pain (“Well, you know, a lot of women have pain during their periods,” advised one previous doctor.) was met with genuine concern and, just over a week ago, a long-overdue diagnosis.

“I wouldn’t have known what to do. I would have been like, ‘This is probably normal,’ ” said Dyer, who recently almost passed out while walking down Congress Street. “It’s not going to get better, but now I’m on a good track to managing the pain. I’m really grateful to Planned Parenthood for that.”

Dyer is equally thankful that Planned Parenthood is a common first stop for those seeking to initiate their gender transition, “something that quite often saves people’s lives.”

Tessa Corliss lives in Scarborough and works as a waitress in Kittery. Her Planned Parenthood experience dates back to when she was 18, in need of birth control, and a female doctor in another practice declined her request for an IUD because “we only really like to give IUDs to people who haven’t already given birth.”

Enter Planned Parenthood, which provided her with an IUD. And when she almost fainted upon its insertion – it’s called a vasovagal response, a normally benign reaction triggered in this case by contact with the cervical nerve – the staff had her lie down for a half-hour, gently assured her it would pass and even called one of her friends to drive her home.

“They were so unbelievably nice,” recalled Corliss. “It was a kind of compassion that I had never felt at a normal doctor’s office.”

Contrast this with the self-righteous men in Washington who insist that Planned Parenthood is at the root of a moral decay supposedly sweeping the country.

They do so despite numerous polls that demonstrate widespread support for Planned Parenthood.

The latest, released Friday by Quinnipiac University, showed that 62 percent of Americans support continued Medicaid funding for Planned Parenthood patients.

Also worth noting: When the 32 percent who opposed such Medicaid reimbursement were asked whether they’d support Planned Parenthood if no taxpayer funds went to abortion (which, again, they currently don’t), that opposition dropped to a mere 12 percent.

(The Quinnipiac poll also found that only 26 percent of Americans now oppose Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion.)

Closer to home, Planned Parenthood commissioned a poll of 600 likely Maine voters five weeks ago by the Kozlow Group, a Virginia-based firm with deep Republican roots. It showed that 70 percent of Mainers statewide support the organization, which serves about 10,000 Mainers.

Even in northern Maine, far from the four clinics in Portland, Topsham, Biddeford and Sanford, 58 percent of the poll respondents gave Planned Parenthood a thumbs-up.

Such numbers are not lost on the likes of Maine Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins. Much to her credit, Collins has made clear her opposition to Planned Parenthood defunding and presumably will fight Republican efforts to hide it behind the overall repeal of the Affordable Care Act.

But Collins’ is but one vote. More work needs to be done.

“I’m going to continue to look for ways to get involved,” said McLeod-Tardiff, who already volunteers at least four hours weekly to Planned Parenthood’s phone bank and other activities.

Her suggestion to others: Talk openly and calmly to family, friends, people at work, wherever, about all that Planned Parenthood does – on a sliding scale, based on ability to pay – for those among us with nowhere else to turn.

“Because then,” McLeod-Tardiff said, “folks who do have a perception of Planned Parenthood as a locus of conflict can contrast that with, ‘Oh, this is my friend, this is my co-worker, this is my daughter. She’s lovely. She’s not screaming at me. This is just how she gets her health care. She wants it to continue.’ ”

And she’s far from alone.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

[email protected]

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: