Volume 20, Number 42 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | March 2 - 8, 2011
Downtown Express photo by J.B. Nicholas
Kathleen Turner, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s Board of Advocates, urged people to blog and Tweet to fight against proposed cuts some believe are targeting the organization.
Planned Parenthood rally takes over Foley Square
BY Helaina N. Hovitz
“Diaphragms, condoms, IUDs, Title 10 not STDS!” These and other chants filled Foley Square and neighboring streets last Saturday, February 26, when Planned Parenthood of N.Y.C., Raising Women’s Voices, numerous other organizations and 25 elected officials gathered for a rally. An estimated 6,000 people attended.
The Republican-led House of Representatives has waged what many see as a full-out war on Planned Parenthood, voting to cut all federal funding for the organization as part of a larger initiative to cut government spending and arguing that putting federal money into the organization would be “subsidizing abortions.” If these Republicans, led by pro-life advocate and Indiana Congressman Mike Pence get their way, all Title X funding would be cut from the organization and many other clinics that provide health and education services for an estimated 800,000 New Yorkers.
Without government funding, the organization would have to greatly scale back on the services they would be able to provide and the number of people they could provide them for. An estimated 800 centers would have to close nationally. The bill must still come before the Senate. At press time, a Senate vote was scheduled for mid-March.
“Sadly, abortion on demand is legal in America, and this is about who pays for it,” said Pence. “Why do tens of millions of pro-life American taxpayers have to pay for abortion? We want to deny any and all federal funding to the largest abortion provider in America.”
According to Erica Sackin, outreach manager for the organization, only five percent of the services Planned Parenthood provides are abortions, and they don’t receive a cent of government funding for any of them.
“This is a campaign of misinformation, you frequently read from Mike Pence and others that federal funding goes to Planned Parenthood for abortions, and it’s totally false,” said Planned Parenthood New York City Associate Vice President Roger Rathman, who added that the Hyde Amendment has prohibited all clinics from using federal funding for abortion since 1970.
Planned Parenthood offers free pelvic and breast exams, cervical cancer screenings, STD testing, pap smears and infertility counseling to those who are uninsured or underinsured. The House of Representatives passed the Pence Amendment, and, if the legislation is passed by the Senate, it would eliminate grants that currently serve low-income women.
Protestors like Sarah Jaffee and Rachel Kador, both 22, showed up to advocate for women across the country who cannot afford these services elsewhere.
“Women’s health is a necessity. Taxpayer money isn’t funding abortion -- it’s promoting sexual education and saving lives by giving free screenings,” said Jaffee.
Earlier this month the national pro-life organization Live Action released a series of undercover videos that showed employees in multiple Planned Parenthood locations “assisting sex traffickers” by coaching them on how to falsify documents that would allow them to perform secret abortions for underage prostitutes.
Sackin believes Live Action has one stated purpose: trying to take down Planned Parenthood and making abortion illegal in this country.
“We are the primary care physicians of over 50,000 women in this city, and this bill would cut two-thirds of our budget,” said Sackin. “I don’t know how we’d be able to operate without it.”
The abortions may make up a small percentage of the services Planned Parenthood offers, but Dr. Sarah Miller, who spoke at the rally, said she works with free clinics because she believes women shouldn’t be pregnant unless they want to be. She noted that the primary care system often fails low-income women in New York City and around the country.
“When politics trump medicine, real women suffer,” Miller said.
Protestor Cora Meruelo echoed her sentiment.
“Let these pro-life people take responsibility for every unwanted child born as a result of this policy, and every family that suffers from it,“ said Meruelo.
Some big names showed up to advocate for the organization.
“I have a teenage daughter who may need Planned Parenthood one day, and I never want that to be unavailable to her,” said New York City Public Advocate Bill De Blasio.
Kathleen Turner, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s Board of Advocates, urged people to blog and Tweet to fight the passage of the bill. Senator Charles Schumer said he was “frustrated” and quoted Martin Luther King, Jr., “The arc of history is long, but it will bend towards justice.” He also told protestors that,”The dangerous cuts that passed the House are dead on arrival in the Senate.”
Congressman Anthony Weiner also made it clear that he stood for women’s rights, and he would fight those standing in their way. “I’m here to say standing in between doctors and women isn’t conservative by definition,” Weiner said, speaking to the right-wing politicians who support the bill.
Weiner was joined by two dozen other elected officials including Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney and Yvette Clark, Congressmen Jerrold Nadler and Eliot Engel, New York State Senators Liz Krueger, Tony Avella and Eric Adams, as well as New York City Council members Letitia James, Rosie Mendez, and Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has a history of working with the organization. Quinn said that to deny funding of the services Planned Parenthood has been giving to millions of men, women, and teens, is a “recipe for disaster.”
“Is there even any validity to the argument? How scared and angry must they be, what reason would they have, to wage an attack on people and distort the facts?” Quinn asked.
In response to the allegations that funding Title X organizations such as Planned Parenthood is not an appropriate use of the pro-life taxpayer’s money, she said free clinics are absolutely an appropriate use of her own and other taxpayer’s dollars.
“We have an entire public hospital system here built on funding from taxpayers assuring that Americans and women have access to healthcare whether they’re insured, underinsured or not uninsured at all,” said Quinn.
About two-thirds of people the clinic sees are either on Medicaid or receive services for free or at a reduced rate. Planned Parenthood is not a free clinic but more of a “safety net provider” that mostly provides OBG/YN exams and sex education, according to Rathman. He said that the organization has become the “target of hate from white males on the radical, right-wing fringe.”
“They sent two actors in, who, according to their script and tape, posed as a pimp and someone running young girls into a sex trafficking ring, which is allegedly in the script posted on their website, but our people never heard those words,” said Rathman. “We’re convinced that those parts of the tapes were doctored. The rest of the tape shows people answering questions about what available services there are.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has questioned the employees in the tape, and, according to Rathman, found that no staff member can recall anyone coming in and claiming to be a pimp, prostitute or sex trafficker.
“Part of our practice is to have frequent training on suspicious encounters,” he said. “A staff member would alert their supervisors or talk to a social worker if there is suspected abuse or mistreatment.”
Feeling particularly mistreated were the African-American women who showed up for the rally. Recently, a billboard went up on Horatio Street and Sixth Avenue picturing a young black child. It read, “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.” The pro-life organization responsible for the billboard is LifeAlways; their website, thatsabortion.com, also appeared on the billboard.
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio said that the billboard “simply doesn’t belong in our city” and that it “violates the values of New Yorkers.”
Sabra, a community activist with the Child Welfare Organization Project and notoriously known only by her first name, says that she has spoken to the mother of the child in the photo on the billboard, and that Live Action told her it would be used for other purposes. Both women are outraged.
“It is racist, but color has nothing to do with it,” she said. “Our rights as women are under attack here.”
The company that rented out the billboard has since pulled the advertisement.
Debra Sweet has been fighting for women’s rights for 42 years, and marched in the “Walk 4 Choice” from Foley Square to Washington Square Park and back on Saturday, holding a sign that read, “The most dangerous place for a woman is a country without abortion or birth control.” The general response during the walk, she says, was receptive. The parade was met with shouts of encouragement and lots of horn honking.
Jasmine Burnett, an advocate for Sister Song, the Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, announced that it was “time for a sister from Flatbush to show up” and continued to say, “In this country, Roe v. Wade is the law of the land.”
“The actions being taken are truly unlawful. “They are attacking the working class of this entire nation,” said Burnett. “This generation is going to finish the war that’s been waged on the middle class.”
Sweet also believes that the government is overstepping its bounds in interfering with the personal lives of women throughout the country.
“There are woman who could die if they don’t have abortions. Does the government want to kill us? Let them be responsible for the 11,000 women who died of illegal abortions before Roe v. Wade,” Sweet said. “The 60’s was a time before Roe v. Wade, when more people died because abortion was illegal than died in Vietnam. [Republicans] care about fetuses, but don’t care what happens to the babies, women and families.”
According to Rathman, the continuing resolution that was passed two weeks ago on February 18 only passes when the legislators have run out of time before approving the budget. In addition to cutting Title X funding, the Pence Amendment was also passed, which completely defunds Planned Parenthood by name. The bill must make it through the Senate next, where democrats still maintain the majority. Planned Parenthood affiliates across the nation will be lobbying in Washington D.C. this week, along with numerous other women’s rights organizations.
Rachelle Suissa, 25, Vice President of Brooklyn Queens chapter of the National Organization for Woman and chair of the group’s Young Feminist Task Force, believes the bill is an assault on women’s health in general, and that there’s no way the Senate will pass it.
“Should it even come to a vote, they have the votes to go against it, because the Democrats and Republicans have formed a coalition,” she said. “There’s no chance of it reaching the President’s desk, because the Democrats in the Senate know how the constituents feel about this.”
Rathman, however, feels that the fight is far from over.
“We’re not going to be complacent and we’re taking nothing for granted,” he said “Everybody needs to be involved in this campaign to keep family planning funding. The attack on women in this country is absolutely for real. They’re even trying to take away prenatal and infant milk programs.”
The thousands of women who showed up on Saturday believe this “war on women’s health” is about control, and are fighting full force to keep the government from controlling women’s bodies.
“We’re not going to be swept under the mat and let them take advantage of the five million women around the country who rely on Planned Parenthood for these services,” said Suissa. “It would be detrimental to society in general. They’re endangering unemployed women who already have children and parents to take care of. They’re only guaranteeing they won’t be able to even do that.”