When I went to work as the legislative director for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin in 2003, I was unprepared for the attacks this venerable women’s health-care group experiences on a routine basis.
The staff and physicians who walk into Planned Parenthood health centers every day, who are targeted and harassed while their workplace is sometimes vandalized and threatened, are heroes. And they do it because there are thousands of women in our state who otherwise would not have access to birth control, cervical and breast cancer screens or testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases. Even though abortion is only a tiny piece of the services Planned Parenthood provides, it is a critical service.
When I was elected as a state representative, I saw the attempts to shut down Planned Parenthood and abortion access up close and personal. Some legislators in our state Capitol are there solely to make abortion, and birth control, illegal. And they will stop at nothing to do so.
Gov. Scott Walker and legislative Republicans have already denied any state funding for birth control and cancer detection efforts Planned Parenthood provides (it was already the case that no public monies could be used for abortion services). Now they are attempting to deny any federal family planning funds to providers, including Planned Parenthood.
At the recent annual convention of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the newest smear campaign against Planned Parenthood was a cause célèbre for Republican presidential candidates. Despite the fact that ALEC purports not to address social issues including abortion, the convention included national anti-abortion groups exhibiting their model policies and rubber fetuses. ALEC and the anti-abortion movement have many of the same funding sources and have the same goals — electing Republicans across this country who will turn back the clock for women all over the United States.
Under the ALEC banner of free markets and limited government, Walker touted defunding Planned Parenthood. He failed to mention that the result was the shutting down of five mostly rural health centers that didn’t provide abortions but cervical and breast cancer screens. (New numbers just released last week show that 25 percent fewer women had access to a women’s health center in 2013 than in 2010.)
But my biggest lesson about reproductive health issues has been as a woman who has struggled through six pregnancies, more than half unsuccessfully. I learned that decisions women make about our reproductive health aren’t about death, but about life. Whether we are faced with an unintended pregnancy, or when a wanted pregnancy goes heartbreakingly wrong, we are simply trying to live the life we want for ourselves and our families.
And this is where the rightwing is the most out of touch. Anti-abortion activists want to talk about death and fetal tissue and body parts, leaving women out of the discussion on abortion and reproductive health. They ignore the reality of women’s lives, and the dreams that we have for ourselves and the families we may, or may not, someday have.
Republicans like Scott Walker want to stamp out abortion by stamping out Planned Parenthood. But what they really want is to stamp out our ability to make the most personal, private decisions about our lives.
We must make sure that doesn’t happen.
Wisconsin State Rep. Chris Taylor is the former legislative director for Planned Parenthood.