Just the Facts Ma'am

My college-aged daughter Lily, home for the summer, ran into the kitchen early Friday morning with The New York Times in her hand in disbelief.

"Mom, have you seen this? It's just wrong."

She opened the paper and pointed to an op-ed titled "Why Pro-Choice Is a Bad Choice for Democrats" by Melinda Henneberger.

Lily couldn't be more right. And Henneberger couldn't be more wrong.

The "opinion" piece attempted to justify Ms. Henneberger's own conclusion about the issue of women's rights by anecdotal conversations she has held across America -- eerily similar to Justice Kennedy's opinion in the recent Supreme Court decision, in which he opined that, despite the fact that there is no reliable data, women might later come to regret an abortion -- implying, therefore, it shouldn't be fully their decision.

What have we come to?

The majority of this country has supported and continues to support women making their own decisions about pregnancy -- even when those decisions are complicated or difficult. In fact, Americans believe that even if they might make a different decision about abortion, they recognize that every woman's case is different, and they aren't prepared to make such an important personal decision for another person. You only have to cast your mind back to the Terry Schiavo case, with some members of the United States Senate interfering in a family's very personal, private decision to see what it may look like as politicians increasingly intervene in matters that need to be made by women and their families and doctors.

In her piece, Henneberger totally misses the point about what the American people want to see done in the area of women's health. A March 2007 survey of 1,870 voters conducted by Peter D. Hart Research Associates demonstrated unequivocally that voters -- and especially Democratic voters, whom Ms. Henneberger claims to speak for -- strongly support the ability of women and families to make personal, private decisions about their health care, including abortion. In fact, 81 percent of voters believe that a woman should be able to make her own decisions about pregnancy and parenting, rather than the government. Among Democrats, support skyrockets to 94 percent.

What the American voters want is for our government to address the pressing public health issues they are concerned about, such as reducing rates of unintended and teen pregnancy in America. Eight out of nine voters believe that government should do everything it can to help women, men and teens prevent unintended pregnancy and reduce the need for abortion -- through commonsense measures like comprehensive sex education and access to contraception.

While Ms. Henneberger attempts to turn an anecdotal survey into a portrait of America, a better model is to look at what happens when voters actually make choices on this issue. One only has to look at the 2006 election results to see how decisively the American people supported mainstream candidates who supported women's rights. Across the heartland, in Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin, governors were elected and reelected when they stood strongly in favor of women's reproductive rights and embraced sound prevention policies like comprehensive sex education and affordable birth control for women. And in the conservative state of South Dakota, voters decisively voted down a proposed abortion ban by twelve points.

Planned Parenthood works every day to support women's ability to make their own decisions about whether and when to become a parent. Ninety-seven percent of what we do is to provide basic health care and family planning, plus education, to nearly five million women, men and teens every year. The folks that come to us for health care are Democrats and Republicans, in red states and in blue. They don't come to us to make a political statement -- they come because like every other person in America, they are looking for affordable health care and information to help plan their families.

So -- if Ms. Henneberger is so concerned about abortion, I urge her to join with Planned Parenthood. We do more to prevent unintended pregnancies, and the need for abortion, than any organization in America. It's easy to opine on the subject of women's reproductive health care -- let's do something to make a difference.

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