Deja Foxx went to Planned Parenthood just once — but it was a transformative experience.
She was 15, sexually active for a year already, and constantly worried that her dreams would be derailed.
Growing up in a gritty part of Tucson, she saw firsthand what pregnancy could do to a young woman’s aspirations.
Attending a magnet school in an affluent part of town showed her another possible future.
“Watching those kids grow up, I wanted all the chances everyone else had,” said Foxx, now 17.
Still a year shy of the legal driving age, she borrowed her boyfriend’s old Mitsubishi Eclipse and drove 45 minutes to the Margaret Sanger Health Center. A kind nurse showed her a booklet of birth control options.
She left with a seven-month supply — and a heart full of relief.
Today, Foxx is a fresh young face in the effort to block government cuts to Planned Parenthood, a 100-year-old women’s health organization that is under attack for its role as the nation’s largest abortion provider.
She has taken on her state’s elected officials and this week brought her message to Washington: Without Planned Parenthood, she says, her future would be in doubt.
The Senate is preparing to take up a health-care bill that would, among other things, block Medicaid dollars from flowing to Planned Parenthood. States like Arizona, with the aid of congressional Republicans, also are seeking to block the organization from receiving federal grants under the Title X family planning program, which made Foxx’s visit to the clinic possible.
Foxx, then 16, gained national prominence via a viral video that captured an exchange April 13 between her and Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake (R), at a town hall meeting in Mesa. Foxx unleashed some built-up rage against the junior senator, who had just voted to permit states like Arizona to redirect Title X funds from the program.
“I’m a young woman, and you’re a middle-aged man,” Foxx said in the video. “I’m a person of color, and you’re white. I come from a background of poverty, and I didn’t always have parents to guide me through life. You come from privilege.”
She continued: “So I’m wondering, as a Planned Parenthood patient and someone who relies on Title X, who you are clearly not, why it’s your right to take away my right to choose Planned Parenthood?”
Flake responded that he was not privileged but did enjoy some advantages growing up, even as he paid for his college education on his own. “What I want is to make sure that everyone can realize the American Dream,” he said. Foxx snapped back: “Then why would you deny me the American Dream?”
Foxx’s story is significant, in part, because the reproductive rights movement is seeking to recruit more young people to its cause. Some veteran activists have accused young women of complacency at a time when abortion rights have seemed a given, and the issue has not incited the same passion as immigration or LGBT rights in the Trump era.
Polls show young people are slightly more supportive of abortion rights than other age groups. A Washington Post-ABC News poll from last year found that 57 percent of adults younger than 35 said they wanted the next president to support legal abortion in most cases, compared with 52 percent overall.
Jeanne Mancini, president of March for Life, an antiabortion organization, said she sympathizes with Foxx but argues that the teenagers could have abstained from sex until marriage. And she said other health centers could have provided Foxx with the same birth control services she sought out at Planned Parenthood.
“Getting free birth control from Planned Parenthood … is not the means for her to achieve the American Dream,” Mancini said. “That’s a really reductive view of the American Dream.”
At about age 15, Foxx stopped living full-time with her mother, who struggled with mental illness and was unable to care for her, Foxx said. The teen strung together housing by spending nights at various friends’ homes, she said. During that time, she was technically on Medicaid, but she had no idea how to use the program to get health care.
In high school sex education, she said, she recalls looking at a slide that showed a list of contraception methods and described them only as available with a prescription or without.
“But where do you get a prescription?” she wondered, without getting an answer from her teachers.
She credits her Planned Parenthood visit with keeping her life on track. She hopes to one day run for political office.
So this week, for her first visit to Washington, Foxx donned a suit and a Planned Parenthood pin to tell her story to members of Congress in hopes of preserving funding for the organization.
With visits to Arizona Democrats, she was preaching to the choir — sort of.
After telling her story to Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, the lawmaker shook his head in disgust at efforts to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood. “There’s a meanness in it,” he said.
Rep. Tom O’Halleran, who represents part of Tucson, praised her work and offered his help. But he felt the need to clarify.
“My major concern is the health-care side,” he said, differentiating that from Planned Parenthood’s work as an abortion provider. He looks at that service differently, he said, “coming from a Catholic family,” though he considers himself “pro-choice.”
Foxx smiled politely. Later, she would explain that his parsing neither surprised her nor concerned her. “There are plenty of justifications for Planned Parenthood’s existence,” she said.
Scott Clement contributed to this report.