Defending Planned Parenthood is Essential for the Whole Progressive Movement

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Defending Planned Parenthood is Essential for the Whole Progressive Movement

"As community organizations, unions, grassroots activists, and faith leaders," writes Hall, "we must look to the shows of support for Planned Parenthood as an example of our ability to stand together." (Photo: National Review)

Planned Parenthood is an easy target for rage and righteousness as we saw too plainly in the shootings in Colorado Springs late last month.

The ongoing conservative attack on Planned Parenthood funding depends on the same extreme rhetoric but, it’s also part of a broader trend, a strategy by the right to dismantle progressive infrastructure.

As destructive as we know right-wing operatives to be, we shouldn’t be surprised by their tactics – and we can’t allow ourselves to be divided or defeated by them, either.

Progressive groups and our members must reach across our issue silos, and our membership bases, whenever one of us comes under attack. Our support of Planned Parenthood provides a good example of how we can and should support each other.

This week I joined with a hundred other community leaders, organizers, and small business owners to place an advertisement in The Hill to tell lawmakers directly that we stand with Planned Parenthood. This followed a day of solidarity on December 5, when organizations and individuals around the country stood up for Planned Parenthood.

By speaking up and speaking together we are helping build a new kind of solidarity essential for today’s progressive movement.

A right to an abortion was upheld by the highest court of the land and is supported, in some or all circumstances, by 80 percent of the public. But abortion rights, and women’s health more broadly, are under greater attack today than ever. Why?

Many states have created bureaucratic hurdles and funding schemes that have made clinics that provide abortions and other essential women’s health services harder and harder to find. At the federal level rhetorical and policy attacks on Planned Parenthood have further jeopardized these rights.

Sure, it is largely because the rightwing politicians have been able to vilify Planned Parenthood and utilize their power at the state and federal level to limit access to abortions.

But it is also because for many years our movement for progressive social change has been too divided-up and focused internally on a narrow set of issues. We have tended to stay in our silos.

For my organization, the decision to stand up for Planned Parenthood was our first significant public foray into reproductive justice. Our decision came after a lot of discussion among organizers and grassroots leaders.

Ultimately, we knew we had to recognize the connection between attacks on women’s reproductive rights and many other issues affecting the lives of everyday people.

Low-wage workers, poor people, people of color, and immigrants depend on Planned Parenthood – 2.7 million women and men every year – for birth control, family planning and abortion services, cancer screenings, and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted disease.

At a time when working people, and especially working women, are increasingly struggling to make ends meet, Planned Parenthood and other women’s health centers are providing essential services. Seventy-nine percent of Planned Parenthood health care center patients have incomes at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level.

It’s no accident that the same politicians plotting to defund Planned Parenthood are leading the charge to eradicate the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Last week, just days after the Colorado Springs shootings, conservatives in the Senate were still debating legislation to dismantle both health care pillars.

If the attack on reproductive justice is part of a broader right-wing agenda, the singling out of Planned Parenthood also points to a prime right-wing tactic to advance that agenda: destroy progressive institutions.

Unfortunately, the right-wing has had success in the past with this tactic.

Just a few years ago, right-wing demagoguery, distortions, and budget cuts broke up ACORN, a national network of community organizations that was one of the strongest voices of low-income people in the country. Far too many progressive groups and individuals stood on the sidelines when ACORN was under fire. We lost strength as a result.

The latest legal challenge to the right of workers to collectively bargain and build unions will be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in January in the case of Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association which could dismantle public sector unions as we know them.

In recent weeks black student activists at the University of Missouri faced threats of violence in the wake of their successful organizing effort to unseat the University President. More recently five Black Lives Matter supporters were shot and wounded in Minneapolis by purported white supremacists.

Meanwhile, political leaders continue to make hateful comments about -- and propose continued racist policy against -- refugees and Muslims. Some voices may be more extreme than others, but xenophobia is widespread, as we saw in 30 governors’ reaction to Syrian refugees. Along with these rhetorical attacks, we’re seeing efforts to gut the programs that help refugees.

This is all infrastructure that we, as progressives, care about and need.

As community organizations, unions, grassroots activists, and faith leaders we must look to the shows of support for Planned Parenthood as an example of our ability to stand together. If there’s one thing we need lots of these days, it’s solidarity.

LeeAnn Hall

LeeAnn Hall

LeeAnn Hall is co-executive director of People's Action and People's Action Institute, a national organization of a million people in 30 states fighting for economic, environmental, racial, and gender justice.

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