I just spent more than $20,000 on bullet-proof vests and emergency security in preparation for this weekend's Roe v. Wade anniversary. I wonder how we got to this point. I wonder why a health care provider that has been an integral part of this community for 64 years must now take such extraordinary measures to defend its patients, staff and doctors.

Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington exists because the community needs our services. In the District of Columbia alone, 67 percent of children are born to unwed mothers. We have the fifth-highest number of reported AIDS cases in the nation, and one of the highest mortality rates for breast cancer in African American and Latina women. The thousands of dollars that I have been forced to allocate for emergency security measures should have been spent on health care and education to address these issues--not on protecting patients and their doctors from harassment and violence outside our clinics.

As the oldest provider of reproductive health services in the metropolitan area, our agency sees far more patients for breast and cervical cancer screening, contraceptive services, family planning counseling and teen pregnancy prevention than for abortion. We work to give women and families the tools they need to prevent unintended pregnancies.

And let us not forget: Planned Parenthood is often the only source of health care for many recent immigrants and low-income residents of the metropolitan area.

Providing quality and compassionate reproductive health care to women--particularly the uninsured and underserved--is our profession and our mission. We will continue to provide these services despite any efforts by anti-choice groups to drag our community back to a time when health care was a privilege for the wealthy and women's bodies were public domain.

Let us hope that by next year's Roe v. Wade anniversary we no longer have to defend ourselves against terrorism and instead can focus all of our energies and resources on building healthy families.

--Jatrice Martel Gaiter

is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington Inc.