When I went to work as the legislative director for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin in 2003, I was unprepared for the attacks this venerable women’s health-care group experiences on a routine basis. There are organizations solely dedicated to shutting down Planned Parenthood, and more pop up every day. Even before the 2010 Tea Party takeover in state capitols around the country, including ours, the relentless legal and political attacks on Planned Parenthood were unending.
I thought I knew something about courage, but what I learned at Planned Parenthood was that I knew nothing about it. The staff and physicians who walk into a health center every day, who are targeted and harassed while their workplace is sometimes vandalized and threatened, are the heroes. And they do it every day because there are thousands of women in our state who otherwise wouldn’t have access to birth control, cervical and breast cancer screens or testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. Even though abortion is only a tiny piece of the services Planned Parenthood provides, it is a critical service. And there are people who risk their lives every day to provide it.
When I was elected as a state representative, I saw the attempts to shut down Planned Parenthood and abortion access up close and personal. Some legislators in our state capitol are there solely to make abortion, and birth control, illegal. And they will stop at nothing to do so.
Newly proposed state legislation is targeted not only at abortion, but also at birth control. A new bill would lower birth control reimbursement rates for safety net providers serving low-income women to a level that could shut most or all of these health centers down. And though Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and legislative Republicans have already denied any state funding for birth control and cancer detection efforts Planned Parenthood provides (no public monies can be used for abortion services), they now are attempting to deny any federal family planning funds to providers, including Planned Parenthood.
This is a nationally coordinated effort. At the recent annual convention of the American Legislative Exchange Council (“ALEC”), the newest smear campaign against Planned Parenthood was a cause célèbre for Republican presidential candidates. Despite the fact that ALEC purports not to address social issues including abortion, on the other side of the convention wall were the national anti-abortion groups exhibiting their model policies and rubber fetuses. ALEC and the anti-abortion movement have many of the same funding sources and have the same goals —electing Republicans across this country who will turn back the clock for women all over the United States.
Under the ALEC banner of free markets and limited government, Walker touted defunding Planned Parenthood. He failed to mention that the result was the shutting down of five mostly rural health centers that didn’t provide abortions but cervical and breast cancer screens. (New numbers just released last week show that 25 percent fewer women had access to a women’s health center in 2013 than in 2010.)
Former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, another Republican candidate for President, referred to the legalization of abortion as the prime example of our country’s moral depravity. And fellow candidate, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, the most verbally strident of the three, speaking by video at the conference, touted shutting down Planned Parenthood. Though all three talked about smaller government, that concept apparently doesn’t apply to women’s private medical decisions. When it comes to women’s bodies, they want government as big and intrusive as possible.
But the biggest lesson I have learned about reproductive health issues hasn’t been in the capitol or even working at Planned Parenthood, but as a woman who struggled through six pregnancies, more than half unsuccessfully. I learned that decisions women make about our reproductive health aren’t about death, but about life. Whether we are faced with an unintended pregnancy, or when a wanted pregnancy goes heartbreakingly wrong, we are simply trying to live the life we imagine for ourselves and our families.
And this is where the rightwing is the most out of touch. Anti-abortion activists want to talk about death and fetal tissue and body parts, leaving women out of the discussion on abortion and reproductive health. They ignore the reality of women’s lives, and the dreams that we have for ourselves and the families we may, or may not, someday have.
Republicans like Scott Walker want to stamp out abortion by stamping out Planned Parenthood. But what they really want is to stamp out our ability to make the most personal, private decisions about our lives. They are using the latest campaign to shut down Planned Parenthood to do just that.
We must make sure that doesn’t happen.