Abortion advocates react to bill to defund Planned Parenthood, express concerns for future

Abortion activists demonstrate for women's rights at a pro-choice march on Feb. 17 at Federal Plaza.

By Enrica Nicoli Aldini

Advocates for women’s reproductive freedom welcomed President Barack Obama’s veto last week on a House of Representatives bill that would repeal the Affordable Care Act and suspend federal funding to Planned Parenthood. But the veto is hardly enough to provide a respite in the fight for women’s reproductive rights, according to some abortion activists in Illinois.

“We were very pleased with the presidential veto,” said Brigid Leahy, director of government relations at Planned Parenthood Illinois Action, the health organization’s political arm in Illinois. “The federal funds provide a wide range of prevention services for millions of men and women, and it is very important that the president vetoed the legislation so that we can keep using the federal funds to guarantee access to those services.”

But, Leahy said, as the nation prepares to elect a new president “things could still change at the federal as well as the state level.” She said an unprecedented number of attacks on Planned Parenthood in Congress have created a climate where women’s health is under siege. Women in many states have to travel miles, sometimes crossing state borders, to reach the nearest abortion provider.

“It’s not only a matter of one individual law,” Leahy said, “but many state laws that layer upon each other.”

Leahy said Illinois is somewhat of a haven in that regard. “Thankfully, Illinois is an oasis in the Midwest for women,” she said. “Most of the bad things we’ve been able to defeat, and women come here from other states.”

Andrea Friedman, abortion rights activist and board member of Personal PAC, an Illinois-based nonpartisan committee for reproductive rights, also shifted the focus from a federal to a state level.

Describing the House 240-181 majority that passed the bill, which would have defunded Planned Parenthood as “show-votes to appeal to a small group of voters,” Friedman said that “the real fight and where we need to focus our attention is in the states. That is where anti-choice legislators are passing law after law under the guise of ‘protecting women’ when it is clear that their true purpose is to take away access to abortion by any means available to them.”

Friedman pointed to the personal nature of the choice for abortion, saying women should be able to make this decision without political interference. “Anti-choice legislators are out of touch with the majority of Americans,” she said.

Benjamin Head, political director for Schakowsky for Congress, echoed her words. “Everyone who believes in a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her body needs to stay loudly, proudly, and vigilantly pro-choice,” he said. U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky is one of the strongest advocates for women’s rights in Congress and was recently named the democratic ranking member in a select committee to investigate Planned Parenthood.

“The anti-choice lobby failed to deny basic rights to American women in this particular case: but unfortunately, the fight for reproductive rights is an ongoing one,” Head said. “Republicans will continue attacking women’s health care and reproductive freedom, and if we don’t stop them, they will win.”

Leahy said Planned Parenthood Illinois Action is “excited” about Planned Parenthood’s recent endorsement of Hillary Clinton. “She has an excellent record of supporting women. Not only has she tried to move us forward by defending our rights, but she also tried to expand them,” she said.

Meanwhile, following requests from Republican representatives, the House will consider whether to override the veto on Jan. 26, just four days after the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.

Abortion activists demonstrate for women’s rights at a pro-choice march on Feb. 17 at Federal Plaza. (Enrica Nicoli Aldini/MEDILL)