Curiously, Jill Stanek has posted almost every other bit of recent media on the topic on her blog, continuing to push the story, but has not mentioned her admission to the Tribune that she is mistaken.
I’ll give Jill the benefit of the doubt on the mistake and say that the lies being spread came as a result of her mistake. She was a key witness at the hearings in question, so the anti-choice community has trusted her on the issue. They have spun it wildly from there, but even Jill couldn’t bring herself to fully quote the explanation the campaign recently gave on her blog, making it appear she had Obama in a "gotcha" moment. The Obama campaign has released a detailed explanation of events.
This is a classic example of the way the far-right spreads misinformation, and through its repetition by anti-choice zealots who believe everything they read on Jill’s blog, or Lifesite.com, or any of the other major anti-choice blogs, it becomes an accepted fact within their community. Even many in the mainstream media then buy into the anti-choice framing of issues, because it appears to be so widely accepted.
If you can’t trust Jill and others not to be mistaken or distort the facts of a political debate, how can anyone trust them not to be mistaken or distort the facts of abstinence-only policies, contraception, and the reasons women might choose to terminate a pregnancy, just to gain political advantage? As we watched this story unfold at Rewire, we’ve been clear it was up to the Obama campaign to explain his position, and our role is to report the issue accurately so that the misinformation doesn’t reinforce stereotypes about reproductive health care that the far-right promotes.
One of our most aggressive anti-choice commenters, Rueben, was like a dog with a bone on my post about Obama calling anti-choice lobbyists out on these lies, and started by saying that I should admit when I’m wrong. Like so many anti-choicers, they just keep repeating their favorite phrases (i.e. "abortion on demand") and conjuring images of rampant late-term abortions, as though these were the norms. The reality is far from the mistaken and distorted notions promoted by anti-choicers, and Americans are starting to realize this.
On June 14, the White House will host the United State of Women Summit to "celebrate the progress we've made on behalf of women and girls and to talk about how we're taking action moving forward." Yet abortion is nowhere on the agenda.
On June 14, the White House will host the United State of Women Summit to, as its website explains, “celebrate the progress we’ve made on behalf of women and girls and to talk about how we’re taking action moving forward.” Yet reproductive rights are scarcely included.
Six themes are on the agenda: economic empowerment; educational opportunity; violence against women; entrepreneurship and innovation; leadership and civic engagement; and health and wellness—”looking at health coverage, preventative care, pregnancy and more.” Speakers will discuss a number of topics to “inspire all of us to take action on June 14th and well after.” The audience is to be made up of advocates and leaders hand-selected by the White House.
Prenatal care is highlighted in the programming descriptions. Contraceptive coverage is mentioned as part of the Affordable Care Act. Maternal mortality and HIV prevention is discussed as an issue of global health, although these issues remain urgent within the United States as well, with women of color experiencing unconscionable disparities in care. Yet the word “abortion” is nowhere to be found.
This, despite the fact that in the last five years, states put upwards of 288 new abortion restrictions on the books, which is more than a quarter of the total such laws adopted since Roe v. Wade. It’s not stopping. In the first three months of 2016, states introduced 411 new abortion restrictions. The “pro-life” dream is coming true: Clinics are closing, specific methods of abortion are being banned, and those women who take matters into their own hands are starting to trickle into jails under fetal homicide laws that backers swore wouldn’t be used to prosecute women.
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President Obama is well aware of these issues. He knows that Congress has established a select investigative panel for the purpose of harassing Planned Parenthood, even after the sting videos created by David Daleiden to bring the organization down were thoroughly debunked. He knows that the incendiary rhetoric used by the activists and politicians colluding with Daleiden sadly and predictably erupted into a terrorist act, leading to the murder of three people in a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood health center late last year. He knows that five men and three women in Supreme Court robes are considering Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, a challenge to Texas’ abortion clinic closure law and the biggest abortion access case in a generation.
In this environment, there is no acceptable excuse for leaving abortion out of a policy agenda for women. Abortion is an inextricable part of the struggle for women’s equality, and as I’ve covered for Rewire previously, you simply can’t do feminism—a commitment to the social and political equality of all people, especially women and girls—and set the controversy of abortion off to the side.
The strategy of trying to make things better for women by talking about everything but reproductive rights doesn’t work. Hushing up about abortion has not magically ended the domestic violence crisis, produced the votes for paycheck fairness, or mandated paid family leave. Leaving abortion to the side has certainly failed to help women parent their children in safe and healthy communities, free of state or systemic violence.
And yet the current plan for the United State of Women Summit is silence. As a time for women’s advocates to gather and outline strategies for moving forward, abortion should be included, period. Obama has nothing to lose politically by taking a more robust stand on reproductive rights during the sunset days of his administration. In fact, embracing abortion and sexual health for women would serve to strengthen his legacy toward women and girls.
Since that history-making day in 2009 when he took office, Obama has mistakenly treated reproductive rights as playing second fiddle to the women’s movement, and to his broader legacy toward dignity, equality, and justice for all. Yes, Cecile Richards has visited his White House 42 times and yes, public actions such as including the birth control benefit in the health-care law and refusing to allow shutdown-happy Republicans in Congress to defund Planned Parenthood show a level of access, commitment, and support.
But when this president convenes a big table, even a women’s summit, abortion is lucky to get a folding chair in the back. Women who have sex are placed in a silo on purpose.
If we’re honest about it, abortion is controversial because affirming a woman’s inherent right to dignity, power, and sexual pleasure is the controversy. This is about gender roles, sexuality, and control—especially over people born into bodies of color and families without wealth.
Either we believe that women are people and deserve dignity, or we don’t. There is no such thing as equality for women if the precondition of equality is that women shut their legs. Justice doesn’t come with behavioral preconditions targeting the very people experiencing injustice.
An advocate for reproductive health, rights, or justice could, on a level, sympathize with Obama for not wanting to have his presidency and even his legacy-minded women’s summit flanked by bloody fetus posters and buses full of Troy Newmans. But the threat of a sideshow shouldn’t stand in the way of justice. On other issues, this president and his administration have proven capable of growing and changing, as with Obama’s journey to embrace marriage equality. Or, more recently, consider the administration’s clear and firm stance for equality in the face of outrageous discrimination and lies peddled by the right wing, as when it filed suit against North Carolina’s bathroom discrimination law as Attorney General Loretta Lynch told the transgender community, “We see you.”
In any case, this issue can and should be corrected now. Abortion should not be censored out of Obama’s big party for feminism, nor from feminism in general. A webmaster can add reproductive rights to the United State of Women Summit website, and the programming can be updated. President Obama can, for that matter, sign a life-saving executive order on Helms. And his legacy toward women that he cares so much about will be vastly improved.
CORRECTION: This piece has been updated to reflect the correct number of themes on the agenda at the summit.
See more of our coverage on the misleading Center for Medical Progress videos here.
As reproductive politics are once again consumed by an attack on Planned Parenthood, it is worth stepping back and asking why this organization is so particularly reviled by the anti-choice movement. This is a demonization that goes well beyond the shady outfit, the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), that organized the latest undercover filming, or its affiliated group, Live Action, infamous for releasing other debunked videos over the last decade. True, Planned Parenthood was reportedly not CMP’s only target, but the videos taken of its physicians have been the only ones to be released. Some Congressional Republicans, we now know, had prior knowledge of these videos, and predictably have issued calls for an investigation of the organization, joined by various Republican presidential aspirants. The videos have also given new ammunition to Republicans’ annual efforts to withhold all funds from Planned Parenthood for Title X services (primarily contraception and cancer screenings), which are subject to a yearly review. In short, the puzzle is why a national health-care organization—in which, as its spokespersons repeatedly point out, abortion only comprises 3 percent of all services delivered—is such a prime target of abortion opponents.
One answer, of course, is size: Even if only 3 percent of its services are abortion, Planned Parenthood still performs a healthy share of all the procedures occurring in the United States. But the answer goes well beyond that. It speaks to an interesting historical split among Republicans over matters of reproduction and sexuality—and the eventual triumph of the most socially conservative wing among the party base.
Before it became seemingly mandatory for Republican political figures to condemn Planned Parenthood, many were enthusiastic supporters. In a step that would be unheard of today, Dwight D. Eisenhower, a former Republican president, agreed in 1965 to to co-chair an honorary Planned Parenthood board along with Harry Truman, a former Democratic president. The conservative icon Barry Goldwater and his wife, Peggy, were stalwart supporters of the Planned Parenthood chapter in Arizona. Sen. Prescott Bush was a strong advocate of the organization and of contraceptive services in general, as was his son, George H.W. Bush, during his time as a Texas congressman, though the latter had to renounce his support in order to become acceptable as a vice-presidential candidate for Ronald Reagan in 1980 (who himself had some years earlier signed a bill liberalizing abortion in California). Mitt Romney, who famously said in the 2012 presidential campaign that he would “get rid” of Planned Parenthood, had attended a fundraiser for the organization with his wife some years earlier, where she had made a donation. And of course it was a Republican president, Richard Nixon, who in 1970 signed into law the aforementioned Title X, the nation’s only legislation specifically for family planning services. Planned Parenthood became a significant grantee of this new program.
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To be sure, this mainstream conservative support for Planned Parenthood’s widespread ability to provide contraceptives was not always rooted in the best of motives. The field of family planning has always contained contradictory impulses of population control as well as women’s liberation, and some of the early supporters of Planned Parenthood were involved with the eugenics movement that was prominent in the first part of the 20th century. Later, the disproportionate location of Title X clinics (some associated with Planned Parenthood) in Black areas shortly after the bill was passed, along with the history of racism and classism in many arenas of medical care, created a lingering distrust of the organization in some sectors of that community, on which the anti-abortion movement has long tried to capitalize. Prominent Black leaders, however, including Martin Luther King Jr. (who accepted Planned Parenthood’s first Margaret Sanger Award in 1966) supported the organization and were, as King put it, “sympathetic” with its “total work.”
The real hardcore animosity toward the organization that lasts to this day, though, has its roots in the emergence of the religious right as a force in Republican politics in the 1970s. As a fundraising appeal of an anti-abortion group put it in 1980, “Planned Parenthood promotes sexual perversion, homosexuality, pornography, abortion, family destruction, population control.” As the quote makes clear, far more than Planned Parenthood’s connection with abortion caused such wrath. The organization’s provision of contraception and its commitment to offering confidential services to teenagers, both made possible through its Title X funding, have been particularly enraging to sexual conservatives. Though abortion may have served as the “battering ram,” as Rosalind Petchesky aptly put it, to mobilize the religious right, in fact, conservative groups oppose all sexuality that does not take place within heterosexual marriage in order to procreate.
Because of its size and history as a recipient of public funding, Planned Parenthood, of course, serves as a useful symbol of an enabler of out-of-control sexual behavior. Contraception’s brief moment of acting as “common ground” between abortion supporters and opponents shortly after the Roe decision in 1973 broke down as the religious right gained strength throughout the 1970s and beyond; the religious right increasingly began to frame contraception as “supportive of the abortion mentality” rather than as something that prevented abortion.
It is too soon to tell what the political fallout will be from this latest attack on Planned Parenthood. Right now, there are two competing narratives about this incident. There is that of CMP and its political allies, which attempts to convince the public that Planned Parenthood is “selling” fetal tissue, in spite of clear evidence, even on the edited tapes, that this is not the case; and that of Planned Parenthood, which is that the undercover operatives used unethical and illegal means to promote lies about the organization’s practices. (A third narrative that this case could have evoked is disappointingly missing thus far—scientists testifying to the importance of research using fetal tissue and the social good that donation by abortion patients represents). Anti-abortionists’ efforts to use Planned Parenthood as a wedge issue in the 2012 election cycle were a dismal failure; analysts acknowledge that the organization’s support of Obama, symbolized by the high visibility of Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood’s telegenic president, at campaign events, was a plus. Thus far, polling data have not shown any appreciable drop in support for Planned Parenthood as a result of the videos, and most Americans continue to support the organization, which at least one in five U.S. women will visit at some point.
How U.S. residents will ultimately come to view this controversy—that is, which of the two competing narratives mentioned above will prevail—might be an interesting test case of whether the realities of people’s sexual and reproductive lives in the 21st century are making the religious right an increasingly irrelevant force, in spite of its current hold on Republican politicians.