As the 2010 campaigns heat up, the glamorous and outspoken Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood, is traveling the country stumping for choice.
Richards has been campaigning since she was three years old and started hitting the trail for her mother, the late, great Ann Richards, governor of Texas. Now she deploys her wit and charm on behalf of Planned Parenthood--and politicians who defend women's reproductive rights.
She passed through Madison, Wisconsin, recently, to endorse Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett, the Democratic candidate for Governor of Wisconsin, and to lavishly praise Jim Doyle, who is stepping down after two terms in the Wisconsin governor's mansion.
Barrett and Doyle, both pro-choice Democrats, are defenders of reproductive rights in a state that has a powerful pro-life lobby. Richards came to town to be on hand as Planned Parenthood gave Governor Doyle a lifetime achievement award for advancing the cause of women's health, spending much of his tenure vetoing aggressively anti-choice laws produced by a legislature that endorsed, among other nutball ideas, allowing concealed guns in Planned Parenthood clinics.
Most of all, she wanted to remind people that abortion, birth control, and women's health will be on the table in the next election, regardless of the "referendum on Obama" subtext that many of the races take on this year.
In the Wisconsin governor's race, for example, Republican candidates Scott Walker and Mark Neumann have pledged to restrict access to birth control, sex education, and abortion. Walker, the favored Republican candidate, recently praised a district attorney in the state who said he'd prosecute teachers who teach comprehensive sex education--as mandated by Wisconsin law.
Many people consider the abortion wars old news, or think that the Obama Administration will keep America pro-choice. But fundamental issues of access not just to abortion but to birth control and basic well-woman exams are determined at the state level.
That was brought home to me recently when a friend of mine who provided abortion, as well as Ob-Gyn care and other well-woman care to Madison women, including much-needed cancer screening for women who otherwise couldn't afford it, got a big job offer and decided to move out of town.
As she packs to leave, our state A.G. launched a bogus "investigation" to make sure that she and her Planned Parenthood colleagues did not in any way use state taxpayer dollars to help train medical students in abortion at the local Planned Parenthood clinic. To her credit, my friend did, indeed, help train those upcoming doctors who might follow in her footsteps. Because the pro-life lobby and legislature in the state spent years hammering on this issue, the program that trains them is funded entirely separately from the tax-supported university funding stream.
But the politics around what ought to be basic, easily accessible, private health care matters for women are so hot it is a constant battle just to retain straightforward, decent care.
Look at a big hole in President Obama's new health care reform law.
It was a blow to organizations like Planned Parenthood, which worked hard for health care reform, when the Administration issued rules forbidding abortion under the plan.
Cecile Richards sent out an email to Planned Parenthood supporters in July criticizing the executive order that bans abortion coverage for women in the new health plan's high-risk pools:
"This is not what we worked for. This is not what we fought for," Richards wrote. "You and I, and millions of Planned Parenthood supporters, fought for a year to make sure that health care reform would provide comprehensive coverage to every woman, man, and child in America. We achieved some tremendous victories, including defeating the Stupak amendment that would have banned private insurance coverage of abortion for millions of women. Now a Stupak-like rule is back."
The rule, she explains, states no woman in a high-risk insurance pool-- "some of the most medically vulnerable women in the country" -- "will be allowed to obtain abortion coverage beyond limited cases (rape, incest, endangering the life of the woman). Not even if she pays for that coverage with her own money."
By inviting supporters to deluge the President with calls and letters, Richards set off a firestorm in the blogosphere.
A thoughtful piece in National Catholic Reporter compared Planned Parenthood to National Right to Life for fundraising on abortion and trying to make things sound more dire than they are in order to fire up their base.
Unfortunately for women in much of the country who have to jump through more and more hoops to get an abortion, birth control, and well-woman care, this is more than an issue of rhetoric.
Eighty-seven percent of all U.S. counties lacked an abortion provider in 2005, the Guttmacher Institute reports.
As abortion doctors get older and retire, medical students don't learn about abortion, and the taxpayer-financing issue constricts access and training further, the situation gets worse. There are real-world effects that go way beyond political talking points.
Perhaps most galling, right-to-lifers like those who hold so much sway in my state consider common forms of birth control like the IUD and the Pill to be "abortion," and push for policies that allow pharmacists to refuse to fill women's prescriptions on grounds of "conscience," and to deny access to birth control for low-income women and college students. Access to birth control should be the one area where opponents of abortion can get together with Planned Parenthood. Instead we have a extreme views on the rise among candidates who are running ahead in the polls this year.
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