Fight stokes Planned Parenthood
By: Sarah Kliff
April 12, 2011 04:38 AM EDT
Online gifts to Planned Parenthood have surged by 500 percent since Republicans passed a budget amendment stripping the group of its federal funding.
NARAL Pro-Choice America’s email activist list grew by 1,000 subscribers per day at the height of the budget debate.
With the budget battle putting women’s health issues front and center, reproductive health groups tell POLITICO they’ve seen an unprecedented surge in activism at a time when many supporters had grown complacent, less fazed by legislative threats now that a president who supports abortion rights is at the helm.
Last Friday, with the budget deadline looming, congressional Democrats tripped over each other to squeeze in back-to-back news conferences and floor speeches extolling the place of women’s health in the federal budget and chastising Republican-proposed cuts.
“Republicans are asking me to sacrifice my wife’s health, my daughter’s health and my nine granddaughters’ health. I won’t do it,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Friday in a floor statement. “As a legislator, I’m frustrated. As an American, I’m appalled. As a husband, father and grandfather, I’m personally offended.”
“I am really stunned,” Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said earlier, “that there are those in the Republican Party in the House who are willing to shut down the government, take people’s paychecks away from them because they want to deny women access to health care in this country.”
It was a marked departure from just over a year ago, when the final days of the health reform debate left reproductive health groups sidelined. Obama clinched the support of anti-abortion Democrats such as Michigan Rep. Bart Stupak — votes needed to pass the law — by accepting abortion restrictions roundly opposed by reproductive health groups.
Congressional allies by and large acquiesced to the new rules as a sacrifice necessary to pass a landmark health reform law. Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), a strong abortion rights supporter, ultimately voted for the health law while expressing reservations about the abortion restrictions, saying at the time she was “disappointed that women’s access to full reproductive health care is again paying the price” to pass legislation.
“There was so much more going on, and it was much more confusing,” NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan said of the messaging challenge the group faced in protecting abortion rights during the health reform debate. “This was such a clear attack on contraception, women’s health and abortion care. It’s been good to see the party committees engaging in choice-related issues in ways they have not in the past.”
To be sure, abortion rights advocates did not score a complete win as Obama reinstated a provision that prevents the District of Columbia from spending local tax dollars on abortion services. The president had lifted the ban shortly after taking office.
But in interviews with POLITICO, leaders of top reproductive health groups said this battle was a near 180-degree turn from their lobbying experience during health reform, with a surge in activism and financial support.
They chalk up the spike to two key factors: a tangible issue around which to organize and a more aggressive, coordinated grass-roots strategy. Ironically, it was Rep. Mike Pence’s pointed attack on Planned Parenthood that seemed to have awakened the group’s supporters.
“If the federal budget proposal had simply said, ‘We’re going to eliminate family planning funding,’ I don’t think people would have been as concerned,” said Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards. “But they literally went after Planned Parenthood. For the first time, I think, the next generation of pro-choice women and men saw that the attack was real. It would affect their lives. It wasn’t hypothetical like last year’s debate; it really connected the personal with the political.”
Planned Parenthood’s Facebook fans surged 992 percent after the House approved the budget amendment to defund the group in mid-February. More than 810,000 supporters signed its petition denouncing the amendment — more than half of them new users who had never been active with Planned Parenthood prior to the budget debate. The social media activity also drove Planned Parenthood’s surge in online donations.
When Planned Parenthood hit Capitol Hill in the final days of the budget debate, it handed out copies of “Stories From Home,” a newly compiled book of supporters’ stories selected from more than 7,000 personal narratives submitted online. Stories came from all 50 states.
“I have pages and pages of women saying Planned Parenthood found early-stage cervical cancer, and they got me to a doctor,” Richards said. “This is not an imaginary issue. It’s real. It’s 7,000 stories, and that is very poignant.”
The challenge now will be to keep a wave of new supporters engaged as the budget threat recedes into the background. Abortion rights groups have often had difficulty engaging younger voters, who have grown up after the 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade and have never known a country in which abortion is illegal.
Abortion rights advocates will soon have another opportunity to rally the troops: Pence’s stand-alone legislation, which would also strip Planned Parenthood of its funding from the Title X program, has been promised a hearing next month.
The Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee previously indicated it would call Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for a hearing on the issue in May. The panel has yet to announce a date and has not communicated scheduling plans to Pence’s office.
“We’re working with leadership and the committee to move the bill,” Pence spokesman Matt Lloyd wrote in an email. “Right now, nothing is scheduled.”
Planned Parenthood’s Richards believes her organization has emerged from the budget battle stronger, with a slew of publicity for the preventive services it provides. Many news accounts have reported that abortion makes up 3 percent of the group’s services.
“I don’t know how many graphs and pie charts have been shown on national television at this point,” Richards said. “It is so important that there is an absolutely new understanding of what we do in terms of preventive services.”
(Story ends here. My comments follow.)
So anyone thinking the demise of Planned Parenthood is even visible on the horizon needs to read the above article. The beast has a lot of life in it yet.
It's very telling that at a time when the base for Planned Parenthood is reinvigorated so many prolife supporters have thrown their hands in the air over the failure of Congress to strike Planned Parenthood support from the 2011 budget. I'll have more to say on that topic a bit later.
But the point of this post is that we need to get our collective ass in gear and strap ourselves in for the long haul.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Fight stokes Planned Parenthood