Threatened by the anti-abortion extortionists

September 28, 2015

Leela Yellesetty reports on the anti-abortion fanatics' attempt to shut down Planned Parenthood--and argues that the time has come for the pro-choice side to fight back.

THE RIGHT wing's war on reproductive rights reached sickening new low this month as the Republican-run House of Representatives threatened another government shutdown over funding for Planned Parenthood (PP)--potentially denying access to essential health care services for millions of mostly low-income women and men.

The rabid anti-choice forces have gone on the offensive in the wake of this summer's release of deceptively edited videos purporting to show PP representatives selling fetal body parts--a contention that is a total lie.

Politicians eager to bolster their standing among the Republicans' right-wing base have seized the opportunity. In a recent Republican debate, former business executive Carly Fiorina took the lying a step further by describing an even more outrageous video that supposedly showed "a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain." Almost immediately, it became apparent that no such video exists--so her supporters attempted to fabricate one.

A Planned Parenthood building was set on fire in Pullman, Washington
A Planned Parenthood building was set on fire in Pullman, Washington

The anti-abortion right's latest fanaticism has opened up a rift in the Republican Party--last weekend, House Speaker John Boehner announced his swift resignation from Congress, apparently bowing to the relentless campaign against him by the GOP's Tea Party wing that is driving the threats to shut down the government unless Planned Parenthood is defunded.

Nonetheless, late last week, a Senate vote effectively denied the Republican right a filibuster-proof majority to push through its anti-woman proposal, and President Obama has vowed to veto any budget that strips funding from Planned Parenthood. As this article was being written, House and Senate leaders were scrambling to come up with a deal to avoid a shutdown on October 1, though this may simply push back the confrontation to another day.

ALTHOUGH THEY may not be successful in cutting off federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the latest attacks have already had an ominous impact:

On September 24, Wisconsin state lawmakers passed a bill to block Planned Parenthood facilities in the state from receiving $3.5 million in federal funds.

In Missouri, pressure from right-wing politicians led to the University of Missouri announcing that that it will no longer grant hospital admitting privileges to the only doctor performing abortions in Columbia, leaving only one provider in the entire state.

On September 5, arsonists set fire to a Planned Parenthood clinic in Pullman, Washington, days after a large anti-choice rally was held at a nearby facility.

Supporters of Planned Parenthood have rightly pointed out the cynical maneuvering of politicians using the issue of abortion to deny access to other health care services. In fact, Planned Parenthood is already prohibited from using federal funding for abortions. Instead, the $500 million it receives annually goes toward providing widely supported and essential services like cancer screenings and birth control.

But when supporters of choice downplay the role that Planned Parenthood plays in providing abortion access, this only plays into the hands of its opponents.

For the past few decades, the anti-abortion right has made up for its relatively small numbers with a surplus of determination-- --outside of clinics harassing patients, holding mass marches and aggressively holding right-wing politicians accountable for their stands--while enjoying outsized media attention. All this lends their nonsense arguments an air of credibility.

Meanwhile, the main pro-choice organizations have urged compromise--a difficult objective given that the right is intent on making abortion illegal--along with support for Democratic politicians who are nominally pro-choice, but who in practice cave to every attempt to whittle away at women's access to abortion and contraception.

THE LATEST developments are a testament to how effective one side's strategy has been compared to the other.

Rather than conceding, supporters of reproductive justice should take a page out of the right's playbook and go on the offensive--asserting the fundamental right of women to control whether and when to have children as a prerequisite to full equality.

In the past few years, a nascent movement is beginning to do just that. Recently, Seattle activist Amelia Bonnow launched the #shoutyourabortion hashtag, encouraging women to share their abortion stories. In her initial Facebook post, Bonnow described her own positive experience having an abortion, adding:

I am telling you this today because the narrative of those working to defund Planned Parenthood relies on the assumption that abortion is still something to be whispered about. Plenty of people still believe that on some level--if you are a good woman--abortion is a choice which should accompanied by some level of sadness, shame or regret. But you know what? I have a good heart and having an abortion made me happy in a totally unqualified way. Why wouldn't I be happy that I was not forced to become a mother?

Writer Lindy West picked up Bonnow's campaign and spread it to her thousands of followers, leading to an outpouring of women sharing their own abortion stories and what it meant to them to have the option of ending an unwanted pregnancy.

Even Bill Nye the Science Guy felt compelled to enter the debate, with a video arguing, with some frustration, that abortion opponents "literally don't know what they're talking about" in terms of the science and pleading for them to stop telling women what to do.

The latest onslaught on Planned Parenthood demonstrates the disgusting lengths that the anti-choice movement is willing to go--fabricating myths and lies, threatening lives and even holding the federal government hostage--in their quest to deny women their reproductive rights.

In the context of worsening inequality, the gutter politics of the right are gaining a hearing as they attempt to scapegoat the most oppressed while deflecting attention from the real criminals in the 1 Percent. But while they're loud, they're still a minority. By uniting and building a fighting movement, we can turn back this ugly tide.

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