Planned Parenthood launches campaign to defend, expand reproductive choice
Adam Burakowski/Flickr

WASHINGTON—Faced with a “hostile five” male GOP-named Supreme Court majority that will curb or end women’s reproductive choice, including abortion, Planned Parenthood rolled out a multi-year multi-million-dollar campaign to defend and expand women’s reproductive rights, state by state.

“We believe your body is your own, and you can’t be free if it is not,” declared Dawn Laguens, the organization’s executive vice president.

The plan includes immediately opening two more clinics – in Richmond, Va., and El Paso, Texas – to add to the 650 nationwide that now provide reproductive and other health services to 2.4 million women yearly, top Planned Parenthood leaders said.

The organization is the top provider of reproductive health services, including abortion, in the U.S. with millions of clients served every year for pelvic and breast exams, STI testing and treatment, and birth control information and services. Its clients last year included at least 4.3 million Latino women, nearly 3.5 million African American women, more than 800,000 Asian women, and nearly 300,000 Native American and  Alaska Native women of reproductive age.

Planned Parenthood will also increase its emphasis on defending and expanding services in states where abortion is already legal, including New York, California, Oregon and Illinois. If necessary, that means writing the right to reproductive choice into state constitutions. It’s already in California’s constitution.

Planned Parenthood will push for that constitutional amendment in Rhode Island, for example. That state is heavily Catholic and the church is a prime foe of reproductive choice, and especially abortion.

And where choice is already law, the top Planned Parenthood officials said in an Oct. 10 telephone press conference, the organization’s plan will include expanding clinics’ capacity and ability to serve out-of-state customers, either in person or by telemedicine.

“There’s no way to sugarcoat it. With Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, we will likely see the further erosion — and perhaps complete reversal — of Roe v. Wade soon. But Planned Parenthood is not going to let this become a country where people can no longer access safe and legal abortion,” Laguens said. The court’s 1973 Roe decision legalized abortion, under certain circumstances, nationwide.

“We demand a world where who you are or how much money you make doesn’t determine your access to health care or access to safe, legal abortion. We demand a world where your personal health care decisions aren’t affected by stigma, shame, or silence. We demand a world where providers can give patients the care they need without harassment or government interference,” Laguens added.

The “Care For All” plan “will include erecting a regional access network so that every woman can have access to safe, legal abortion” even if her own state lacks centers, or they’re too far away, said Rachel Sussman, the organization’s director of state policy. So, for example, Iowa women hamstrung by the GOP-run state’s enacted restrictions on abortion can go to the regional centers in neighboring Illinois.

“Every day in our health centers, we see firsthand the kind of impact severe abortion restrictions have on the women in states that border Illinois,” Dr. Amy Whitaker, director of Planned Parenthood of Illinois said in a statement. “Already, women are forced to face the financial burden of traveling to us from out of state to access care…We’ll need an ironclad network of states and providers across the country where abortion will still be legal and accessible, no matter what happens at the Supreme Court.”

The organization’s plan will also include more publicity about financial aid available to low-income women who need reproductive health services. That way, women in hostile states – almost all run by right-wing Republicans – can have better access to reproductive health services, they said.

“We’ve been anticipating working on this issue ever since Trump and Pence took office,” said Laguens, referring to stridently anti-choice GOP President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

Congressional Republicans have also tried, so far unsuccessfully, to eliminate federal funds to Planned Parenthood for non-abortion reproductive health services, such as family planning and contraception.

And since the mass GOP takeover of state legislatures in 2010, solons have approved more than 400 abortion restriction laws.

But accession of Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court accelerated the group’s focus on its “Care For All” comprehensive plan. Kavanaugh, who passed Trump’s litmus test of planning to vote to overturn the historic 1973 pro-abortion decision, Roe v Wade, formally took his seat on the High Court on Oct. 8.

And that politico-legal threat to Roe looms, Laguens adds, with 13 cases, brought by so-called right to life groups, on the court’s doorstep. Some seek to outlaw abortion, while others would impose so many restrictions on women seeking even abortion information – much less aid – as to make the right meaningless, the Planned Parenthood officials said.

So besides expanding services at clinics, making them more available, and publicizing sources of money women can use to afford them, Planned Parenthood’s state affiliates are working with sympathetic lawmakers nationwide to launch pro-choice measures in 28 state legislatures next year, said Sussman.

But they’ll also be going up against the right-to-lifers, who have bombarded state legislatures from coast to coast with laws limiting or outlawing access to abortion and other reproductive health measures.

For example, the heavily GOP – and heavily gerrymandered – Texas legislature just enacted a ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It also imposed expensive and odious medical restrictions on Planned Parenthood clinics. Not counting El Paso, there are only five clinics left in the sprawling state.

“Care For All” communications staffers will also work with visual media – TV, the stage, Internet and more – to get out the message that abortion is not only legal but medically safe, Communications Director Kevin Griffis said. He did not name specific allies, nor say if Planned Parenthood would enlist other grass-roots organizations – such as the Coalition of Labor Union Women – in its drive.  CLUW strongly supports reproductive choice, including the right to safe and legal abortion.

Changing public perceptions – many of them negative, propounded by right-to-lifers – “is at the heart of providing safe and legal abortion, and we’ll announce additional publicity and access efforts as we develop them,” Griffis explained. But the organization already has most of the public on its side. Pushed by awareness of the Trump-Pence anti-choice stand, some 71 percent of respondents now back reproductive choice, including abortion rights, a recent Pew poll shows.


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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