Regional Groups Find Allies in New Places

Wendy Norris

While ultra-conservatives attempt to derail health reform with intellectually dishonest charges of taxpayer-funded abortion, state and local pro-choice advocates seek more centrist issues to attract allies to the greater cause.

Reproductive health care advocates are modifying the old
adage "don’t get angry, get organized" by going local.

After weathering eight years of conservative attacks, the
pro-choice community held high hopes that the Obama Administration, bolstered
by democratic majorities in Congress, would signal an end to partisan bickering
over federal funding for comprehensive care and the tedious national obsession
with abortion.

With that optimism scattering to the four winds of
manufactured political controversy, the National Institute for Reproductive
Health is organizing the Urban Initiative for Reproductive Heath, four
regional urban summits to bring providers, policymakers, activists, funders and
legislators together to share effective program strategies and localized
incidence data.

"There is a limitless potential to create change for
women’s health at a local level," said NIRH president Kelli Conlin at a
Sept. 23 kick-off event in Denver. "What people here realize, much more
clearly than people out East or in Washington, is that not everything has to be
a knock-down, drag-out fight. You can get things done without burning down the

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Finding common ground
in unlikely places

The emphasis on seeking common ground was a dominant theme
in sessions on sexuality education, underserved populations and the
intersection of reproductive freedom and economic self-sufficiency.

Denver summit co-host Emilie Ailts of NARAL Pro-Choice
moderated the opening plenary session on how urbanization and
regional political shifts signal new demographic groups the pro-choice
community should be targeting for support. Though electoral demographics may
not be a subject that’s typically top of mind among reproductive health
advocates it’s an especially savvy tactic to identify issue reframing
opportunities with new audiences — another hot topic of conversation among

One of the more interesting examples of this new thinking
was shared by Jill Hanauer, founder of the progressive strategy firm Project
New West
, who noted the recent lessons of Montana, a traditional red state
and unlikely beacon in the progressive political fog. According to state
electoral results, George W. Bush carried the state by 20 percentage points in
the 2004 presidential election. A mere four years later, GOP candidate John
McCain won by just two points. To Hanauer, that stunning electoral gap should
spur pro-choice advocates to reconsider potential alliances. As she explained
in a data-laden presentation, typically conservative-minded people who affix
flag stickers to their cars and own firearms also care deeply about self-determination
and would make natural allies in the fight to protect reproductive choice.

Teresa Henry, a state representative from Missoula, Mont.,
has successfully carried several pieces of legislation on health care access
and sex education by following Hanauer’s advice to broaden the coalition.
Despite its reputation as a conservative hotbed, Henry describes the political
climate in Montana as hopeful.

"I think if we can personalize it it’s one of the ways
that we can reframe the issue," said Henry, a three-term representative
who is running for a state senate seat. She also noted that seizing on people’s
optimism about health care reform can help drive more productive conversations.

While it’s not surprising that conservatives have attempted
to derail the proposed public option to provide a federally-backed health
insurance program with an intellectually dishonest debate over taxpayer funds
supplementing abortion services, pro-choice activists are looking to more centrist
issues to attract allies to the greater cause.

Sexuality education:
the new front for finding common ground in the West

Bridging the gaps between inconsistent, impractical federal
mandates and public health policy at the local level has long been a challenge
for service providers and advocates, alike. That’s been especially true for
school-based youth programs.

Kalpana Krishnamurthy, field director for the Portland,
Ore.,-based Western States Center, is seeing some encouraging trends in
culturally-relevant sexuality education curricula that emphasizes values,
teaches healthy relationship skills and empowers parents — all improvements
that can help diminish both legitimate local concerns and overblown partisan

"When the information that their child brings home does
not reflects their values and culture, parents will resist," said
Krishnamurphy referring to recent community surveys that probed how to best
deliver sex education beyond a clinical framework. "If we want to start a
dialogue with parents, schools and sex ed programs need to understand the
critical role that parents play."

Getting schools and parents on board also provides
opportunities to broaden the public discussion to related social problems.

Widely held public perception that sexuality education is
limited to imparting pregnancy prevention and sexually transmitted disease
information belies the intertwined issues of economic empowerment, education
and delayed childbearing.

Denver City Councilman Paul Lopez represents several west
side neighborhoods that collectively boast the city’s highest unintended
pregnancy rates. He refers to the problem as a perfect storm of education,
jobs, health care and immigration status disparity.

To make his point, Lopez refers to startling Colorado teen
fertility statistics: white, non-Hispanic girls between the ages 15-17 have a
pregnancy rate of 10.2 percent while for Latinas the figure soars to 69
percent. In any other context the latter would be considered a health epidemic
that would, in turn, unleash a torrent of public concern and funding for
prevention programs.

But the reality in Denver, like many other cities across the
nation, is a multi-million dollar budget deficit won’t permit the diversion of
dwindling capital to teen pregnancy prevention when it’s simply labeled a
social problem. Lopez argues that if communities considered reproductive health
issues as economic ones a very different set of public expectations would
emerge — political figures would become more likely to prioritize sex education
funding and the partisan social wedge would be considerably weakened.

That perspective was shared by many at the summit, including
Gretchen Gagel McComb, president of the Women’s Foundation of Colorado,
an endowed fund that underwrites self-sufficiency programs and policy research.

"One of the things that we’re trying to work with other
like-minded women’s organizations is how we reframe the discussion about
reproductive health because it always devolves to abortion," said McComb.

Finding agreement between the polarized views on sex
education between those that advocate abstinence-only and others that support a
more comprehensive view is at the center of McComb’s efforts to broaden the
community conversation about the lack of reproductive health care access and
its effects on the widening economic gap for women with children.

But flipping that switch isn’t easy.

The call for
pragmatism meets reality

Shifting away from ineffective faith-based, abstinence-only
sex education programs as the primary federally-funded option for youth
pregnancy prevention has been mired in power struggles inside the Oval Office
and on Capitol Hill.

But those close to the White House’s Office of Public
Engagement are confident negotiations to promote science-based comprehensive
sex education will win out.

"Here’s where we need to give credit to the White
House," said William Smith of SEICUS, one of the national
organizational participants in the summit. "They are trying hard to bring
together disparate voices to try and figure out how to lower the temperature on
the abortion debate."

Smith notes that the White House-backed Ryan-DeLauro bill,
a common ground approach to reduce abortions that has been met with skepticism
by advocates on both sides of the issue, and the overarching health care reform
debate have advanced the value of comprehensive reproductive health care into
the public fore.

Even when that debate turns prurient, as it did when Sen.
Jon Kyl (R-AZ) quipped Friday that he doesn’t believe health insurance
policies should be larded up with maternity care
coverage causing Sen.
Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) to shoot back: "I think your mother probably

Despite the senatorial made-for-TV fireworks, Smith is
optimistic that prevention bills are the key to avoiding ideological hackles.
Though he doesn’t discount that the process of community dialogue is and will
continue to be arduous.

"In the federalist system of government that we’ve got,
how do you meet the people where they are and bring them to the point you want
them to be?," asks Smith. "That’s the trajectory in which we have to

The Urban
Initiative for Reproductive Health
will hold its next session in Atlanta,
Ga., on Sept. 30-Oct. 2, followed by Chicago, Ill., (Oct. 21-23) and Los
Angeles, Calif., (Oct. 29-30). Presentations will be posted on the summit Web
site to encourage cross-regional dialogue on common issues.


News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.