Why We Speak Out For Family Planning

Amanda Marcotte

Planned Parenthood is just one of many programs facing cuts if the House continuing resolution is passed into law. But they've become a touchstone, because they stand for the battle over who in our country will be considered a full human being.

When it comes to the world of feminist writer/activists, I definitely fall on the “writer” side of the line.  Most of my life is researching, conducting interviews, pitching pieces, and, of course, staring at my computer, trying to think of a verb that’s dynamic but not pretentious.  I love giving speeches, but they’re usually of the 20-60 minute long variety meant to educate, analyze and entertain (and there’s always a Q&A), and I’m always on a roster with journalists and academics.  So how was it that Saturday afternoon, I found myself standing outside with feet growing numb in the cold amongst actors, musicians, organizers and oodles of politicians, trying to think of what I could say in 120 seconds that would be meaningful to the crowd of thousands of people waving signs and periodically erupting into chants?

Well, mostly I was there because Planned Parenthood of New York City graciously asked me to speak at a rally in support of Title X funding, which has been zeroed out by the House of Representatives in the continuing resolution to fund the government, a move that can be stopped by the Senate and President. I said yes because while drum-beating and sign-waving is really outside of my comfort zone, I consider this issue too important not to grab opportunities to speak out.  For years I’ve been writing about something that most of the media tragically ignores, which is the growing radicalism of movement conservatism regarding women’s sexual health.  Anti-choice is also about resisting birth control and any other health care that relates to sexual activity, on the grounds that women who have sex should face “consequences”, i.e. be punished. (As a good example, I saw my friend Katie Halper fighting some guy on Twitter over whether or not Planned Parenthood offers breast exams, something anti-choicers are trying to deny because, as Katie put it, “I guess even the most heinous distortion of punitive conservatism can’t make breast cancer a woman’s fault.” Notice that they’re not trying to deny that Planned Parenthood does a million cervical cancer screenings a year, but I guess they don’t care about those lives, since cervical cancer is usually caused by HPV, and they can convince themselves those women brought their deaths on themselves.)  Even though we’ve seen evidence of the anti-choice movement pushing for abstinence-only education and fighting the HPV vaccine and emergency contraception, in most of the media, the discussion is still incorrectly framed as fetus-centric.

And now the anti-choice has scored a major victory in the war on women’s health, amongst many other programs that help people that conservatives disapprove of, such as people who want to have more energy-efficient homes and women who have to work for a living and therefore can’t play unpaid preschool teacher to their kids. So I had to speak out.  Conservative activists are dropping the word “abortion” a lot, because it performs well as a conversation-stopper that allows them to continue working against women without suffering too much investigation into their real aims, but this time, people aren’t fooled.  Pap smears and condoms aren’t abortion.  The anti-choice resistance to them makes it clear that the concern for fetuses is actually a concern that women are having sex without facing sadistic punishments that, in the past (and sadly still today) left them traumatized, mutilated, and often dead.

That era isn’t far enough in the past that women today really can take for granted all that we have, but I thought the best way to speak out against the encroachments on women’s rights was to talk about all the ways our lives have been quietly saved by doctors, nurses, and educators who give us the tools to be, as women always have been before us, sexually active without giving up our health and dreams.  For most of us, having to live without birth control would have meant drastically different, sadder lives.  How better than to highlight the radical nature of this move against Title X than to instigate a speak-out about how the biggest target—Planned Parenthood—helped us, usually in ways that the vast majority of the country finds completely non-controversial?

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For this purpose, I started the Twitter hashtag #thanksPPFA, where people could talk about how Planned Parenthood had improved their lives.  And for this purpose, when I stood up at the rally Saturday, what I did was tell a (very short) story: I had gone to a Catholic university, and the health center didn’t offer birth control. (Boooooo!, said the crowd, surprising me and then making me laugh.)   So I went to Planned Parenthood, where I could afford it, and that clinic basically was my doctor for the next five years.  And I spoke briefly about the stories that came out on Twitter, 140 characters at a time: women who finished school, married the right guy, had kids when they were ready, all because of Planned Parenthood.  Women who are still with us, because their cervical cancer was caught by Planned Parenthood’s routine screening.  Lives are saved every day, and it’s usually not remarked on, because most of us expect it will always be there. 

But if the conservative movement gets its way, it won’t be there.

While Planned Parenthood is the touchstone for this outrage, people are standing up for more than just this one large organization.  We’re standing up because we believe that women, gay people, poor people, people of color, young people, and people who fall outside the gender binary are just as much people as the rich straight white guys that dominate the ranks of those trying to shut down access to sexual health care. And as people, we have the same rights as those rich straight white guys to our health, to our hopes and dreams, to our relationships, and yes, to our sexual pleasures as they do.  Planned Parenthood offers substantial services that save lives every day, but they’re also a symbol in this war over who gets to decide if The Rest Of Us are people, too.  In the 21st century, are we going to expand the rights of man to all of us, or are we going to slide backwards to a time when only the few got access to what we all deserve? 

News Abortion

Anti-Choice Leader to Remove Himself From Medical Board Case in Ohio

Michelle D. Anderson

In a letter to the State of Ohio Medical Board, representatives from nine groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Anti-choice leader Mike Gonidakis said Monday that he would remove himself from deciding a complaint against a local abortion provider after several groups asked that he resign as president of the State of Ohio Medical Board.

The Associated Press first reported news of Gonidakis’ decision, which came after several pro-choice groups said he should step down from the medical board because he had a conflict of interest in the pending complaint.

The complaint, filed by Dayton Right to Life on August 3, alleged that three abortion providers working at Women’s Med Center in Dayton violated state law and forced an abortion on a patient that was incapable of withdrawing her consent due to a drug overdose.

Ohio Right to Life issued a news release the same day Dayton Right to Life filed its complaint, featuring a quotation from its executive director saying that local pro-choice advocates forfeit “whatever tinge of credibility” it had if it refused to condemn what allegedly happened at Women’s Med Center.

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Gonidakis, the president of Ohio Right to Life, had then forwarded a copy of the news release to ProgressOhio Executive Director Sandy Theis with a note saying, “Sandy…. Will you finally repudiate the industry for which you so proudly support? So much for ‘women’s health’. So sad.”

On Friday, ProgressOhio, along with eight other groupsDoctors for Health Care Solutions, Common Cause Ohio, the Ohio National Organization for Women, Innovation Ohio, the Ohio House Democratic Women’s Caucus, the National Council of Jewish Women, Democratic Voices of Ohio, and Ohio Voice—responded to Gonidakis’ public and private commentary by writing a letter to the medical board asking that he resign.

In the letter, representatives from those groups shared comments made by Gonidakis and said he lacked the objectivity required to remain a member of the medical board. The letter’s undersigned said the board should take whatever steps necessary to force Gonidakis’ resignation if he failed to resign.

Contacted for comment, the medical board did not respond by press time.

The Ohio Medical Board protects the public by licensing and regulating physicians and other health-care professionals in part by reviewing complaints such as the one filed by Dayton Right to Life.

The decision-making body includes three non-physician consumer members and nine physicians who serve five-year terms when fully staffed. Currently, 11 citizens serve on the board.

Gonidakis, appointed in 2012 by Ohio Gov. John Kasich, is a consumer member of the board and lacks medical training.

Theis told Rewire in a telephone interview that the letter’s undersigned did not include groups like NARAL Pro-Choice and Planned Parenthood in its effort to highlight the conflict with Gonidakis.

“We wanted it to be about ethics” and not about abortion politics, Theis explained to Rewire.

Theis said Gonidakis had publicly condemned three licensed doctors from Women’s Med Center without engaging the providers or hearing the facts about the alleged incident.

“He put his point out there on Main Street having only heard the view of Dayton Right to Life,” Theis said. “In court, a judge who does something like that would have been thrown off the bench.”

Arthur Lavin, co-chairman of Doctors for Health Care Solutions, told the Associated Press the medical board should be free from politics.

Theis said ProgressOhio also exercised its right to file a complaint with the Ohio Ethics Commission to have Gonidakis removed because Theis had first-hand knowledge of his ethical wrongdoing.

The 29-page complaint, obtained by Rewire, details Gonidakis’ association with anti-choice groups and includes a copy of the email he sent to Theis.

Common Cause Ohio was the only group that co-signed the letter that is decidedly not pro-choice. A policy analyst from the nonpartisan organization told the Columbus Dispatch that Common Cause was not for or against abortion, but had signed the letter because a clear conflict of interest exists on the state’s medical board.

News Politics

Missouri ‘Witch Hunt Hearings’ Modeled on Anti-Choice Congressional Crusade

Christine Grimaldi

Missouri state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) said the Missouri General Assembly's "witch hunt hearings" were "closely modeled" on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans' special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life.

Congressional Republicans are responsible for perpetuating widely discredited and often inflammatory allegations about fetal tissue and abortion care practices for a year and counting. Their actions may have charted the course for at least one Republican-controlled state legislature to advance an anti-choice agenda based on a fabricated market in aborted “baby body parts.”

“They say that a lot in Missouri,” state Rep. Stacey Newman (D) told Rewire in an interview at the Democratic National Convention last month.

Newman is a longtime abortion rights advocate who proposed legislation that would subject firearms purchases to the same types of restrictions, including mandatory waiting periods, as abortion care.

Newman said the Missouri General Assembly’s “witch hunt hearings” were “closely modeled” on those in the U.S. Congress. Specifically, she drew parallels between Republicans’ special investigative bodies—the U.S. House of Representatives’ Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives and the Missouri Senate’s Committee on the Sanctity of Life. Both formed last year in response to videos from the anti-choice front group the Center for Medical Progress (CMP) accusing Planned Parenthood of profiting from fetal tissue donations. Both released reports last month condemning the reproductive health-care provider even though Missouri’s attorney general, among officials in 13 states to date, and three congressional investigations all previously found no evidence of wrongdoing.

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Missouri state Sen. Kurt Schaefer (R), the chair of the committee, and his colleagues alleged that the report potentially contradicted the attorney general’s findings. Schaefer’s district includes the University of Missouri, which ended a 26-year relationship with Planned Parenthood as anti-choice state lawmakers ramped up their inquiries in the legislature. Schaefer’s refusal to confront evidence to the contrary aligned with how Newman described his leadership of the committee.

“It was based on what was going on in Congress, but then Kurt Schaefer took it a step further,” Newman said.

As Schaefer waged an ultimately unsuccessful campaign in the Missouri Republican attorney general primary, the once moderate Republican “felt he needed to jump on the extreme [anti-choice] bandwagon,” she said.

Schaefer in April sought to punish the head of Planned Parenthood’s St. Louis affiliate with fines and jail time for protecting patient documents he had subpoenaed. The state senate suspended contempt proceedings against Mary Kogut, the CEO of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis Region and Southwest Missouri, reaching an agreement before the end of the month, according to news reports.

Newman speculated that Schaefer’s threats thwarted an omnibus abortion bill (HB 1953, SB 644) from proceeding before the end of the 2016 legislative session in May, despite Republican majorities in the Missouri house and senate.

“I think it was part of the compromise that they came up with Planned Parenthood, when they realized their backs [were] against the wall, because she was not, obviously, going to illegally turn over medical records.” Newman said of her Republican colleagues.

Republicans on the select panel in Washington have frequently made similar complaints, and threats, in their pursuit of subpoenas.

Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the chair of the select panel, in May pledged “to pursue all means necessary” to obtain documents from the tissue procurement company targeted in the CMP videos. In June, she told a conservative crowd at the faith-based Road to Majority conference that she planned to start contempt of Congress proceedings after little cooperation from “middle men” and their suppliers—“big abortion.” By July, Blackburn seemingly walked back that pledge in front of reporters at a press conference where she unveiled the select panel’s interim report.

The investigations share another common denominator: a lack of transparency about how much money they have cost taxpayers.

“The excuse that’s come back from leadership, both [in the] House and the Senate, is that not everybody has turned in their expense reports,” Newman said. Republicans have used “every stalling tactic” to rebuff inquiries from her and reporters in the state, she said.

Congressional Republicans with varying degrees of oversight over the select panel—Blackburn, House Speaker Paul Ryan (WI), and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chair Fred Upton (MI)—all declined to answer Rewire’s funding questions. Rewire confirmed with a high-ranking GOP aide that Republicans budgeted $1.2 million for the investigation through the end of the year.

Blackburn is expected to resume the panel’s activities after Congress returns from recess in early September. Schaeffer and his fellow Republicans on the committee indicated in their report that an investigation could continue in the 2017 legislative session, which begins in January.

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