Planned Parenthood braces for a fight for the future of women’s choice

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood
Cecile Richards greets Planned Parenthood supporters in Washington, D.C. in 2011

By Anna Foley

After the Nov. 8 election, Lauren Zeitz was among the thousands of people who decided to donate to Planned Parenthood to send a message: She’s not going to stop fighting for reproductive health care.

“My mom and I decided to make this donatation together because we agree that an attack on Planned Parenthood is an attack on women’s health,” said Zeist, a Northern Illinois University student and Rockford native.

To make their message plain, the two Zeitz women made their donation in the name of Vice President-elect Mike Pence. During his time as a government official, Pence has made restricting women’s health care and personal choice a core issue. As an Indiana congressman, he wrote the first bill to end federal funding to Planned Parenthood in 2011. Since becoming the state’s governor in 2013, he has signed multiple anti-abortion bills into law. Most notably, he enacted a law in 2015 requiring doctors to offer the “remains” of aborted fetuses to women for burial purposes. That bill has since been struck down.

“I will continue to fight him as long as he is in the White House,” Zeitz said.

More than 260,000 people have made donations of $5 or $10 to Planned Parenthood since Donald J. Trump was elected president, said Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards to a packed auditorium Tuesday at The University of Chicago Law School. Additionally, 70,000 of those people made their donation as Zeitz did — in Pence’s name.

“The American people believe in reproductive rights, and they believe in healthcare,” Richards said. “They don’t want to see a century of progress stripped away, and they want us to move forward.”

According to a 2015 Gallup poll, 59 percent of Americans favorably viewed Planned Parenthood, which is the nation’s largest provider of sex education. Some of the services the 100-year-old women’s health organization provides are positively regarded by the American public as well. Pew Research found 56 percent of Americans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. And Gallup found birth control is one of the most “morally acceptable” issues in America (89 percent of Americans think it’s OK).

“Even at this trying time for reproductive rights, it’s no longer at the margins of American politics,” Richards said. “It’s now in the mainstream where it should be.”

However, Richards said she realizes working with an anti-choice, anti-women’s health administration will not be easy.

“It’s brutal out there, I don’t want to gloss over how hard these next few years are going to be,” Richards said. “We’re going to have to fight back against the attacks while also continuing to innovate and drive forward.”

That innovation includes initiatives like pushing for virtual health care, which allows women who live in remote and rural areas to teleconference with a doctor to receive birth control prescriptions and medication. Along with the advancements in technology and medicine, Richards said the shift in conversations around women’s reproductive health shows how critical Planned Parenthood will be in the future.

“Women are now shouting their abortion stories, as they say, taking on shame, taking on stigma and taking on the status quo,” Richards said.

Fighting for women’s health transcends the Trump administration and speaks to American society as a whole, she said.

“We are at a crossroads in America, and what we do in the days and months and years to come won’t just determine what happens next,” she said, “it will define who we are and what we will be.”

Photo at top: Cecile Richards greets Planned Parenthood supporters in Washington, D.C., in 2011 (Credit: American Life League).