“People, not the government, are the only ones who have the right to make intimate decisions about their lives.”
This line, or a version of it, was repeated so often at Planned Parenthood Illinois Action’s Roe v. Wade Anniversary Celebration on January 24, the event could have been mistaken for a rally of a very different political persuasion.
Of course, since in this case, “people” means “women,” and “decisions” means “health care,” the above statement is a progressive rallying cry rather than a Libertarian dogma. And sadly, it’s become a partisan position rather than an inalienable American truth. As Planned Parenthood Illinois Action Vice President Pam Sutherland noted about conservatives (including all the current Republican presidential hopefuls except Mitt Romney) who want to redefine life as beginning at the moment of conception: “They all want a Personhood Amendment, but they forgot that women are persons.”
The event, co-hosted by Bill Marovitz, Fay Clayton and Laura Tucker at Carnivale restaurant, marked Roe v. Wade’s 39th anniversary, and as most of the speakers during the evening pointed out, it’s been a rough year for women’s right to choose. In 2011, state legislatures passed a grand total of 92 measures that cease or limit a woman’s access to safe abortion services and full reproductive healthcare; this easily sails past 2005’s record of 34 anti-choice measures passed. In Illinois, some of these bills were assigned not to the Human Services Committee, but to the Agriculture Committee.
“We have never, ever seen a year like 2011,” noted Carole Brite, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Illinois Action, citing specifically Sen. Jon Kyl’s public assertion that abortion services are “90 percent” of Planned Parenthood’s work – a claim that was later defended with the now infamous “not intended to be a factual statement” disclaimer – and the threat to shut down the federal government over funding of Planned Parenthood. (As we all know by now, abortions account for 3 percent of what Planned Parenthood does, with the bulk of their services focused on testing and treatment of STIs, cancer screenings and prevention, and contraceptives. Here at home, Planned Parenthood Illinois services 75,000 women in 17 centers throughout Illinois; abortion services are offered at five of those clinics.)
“The main purpose [of these measures] is to take away basic medical care for women, often the women who can least afford it,” Ms. Brite noted, before observing that the Republican presidential candidates seem to be “jockeying to see who can be the worst for women and women’s rights.”
Marcena Love, who joined the Chicago Area Planned Parenthood Association Board of Directors in 1966 and founded Personal PAC in 1978, accepted the Dr. Marvin Rosner Award for Lifetime Achievement. In her remarks, she commented on observing birth control evolve into a partisan issue. After all, she pointed out, it was Republican President Nixon who declared birth control a national issue and signed into law Title X of the Public Health Service Act, which guaranteed access to contraceptives regardless of income and pledged funding to research for contraceptive development. “How times have changed,” she observed. “Being pro-choice means respecting women as moral, ethical beings. Being pro-choice means women, not the government, get to make decisions about their lives. Being pro-choice means that when and if to bear a child is a deeply personal choice…Losing women’s reproductive rights is only an election away.”
That theme was continued by State Sen. Heather Steans, who accepted the Richard J. Phelan Profile in Courage Award for her work in sponsoring and passing a bill through the State Senate that requires Illinois public school teachers to include age-appropriate and medically accurate information, including information about contraceptives as well as abstinence, in sex education materials.
That passing such a bill is controversial and partisan is “truly absurd,” Sen. Steans said in her comments. She noted that, on the heels of reports of women being arrested for obtaining abortions, it’s more important than ever to educate younger generations about the struggle for and importance of reproductive rights. “Women’s ability to have as many kids as they want, when they want, without interference from the government, is a right that must be protected.”
And the way to protect that right, the evening’s speakers noted repeatedly, is to elect pro-choice candidates, both in the Illinois primary on March 20 and the general election on November 6. A list of pro-choice candidates can be found on Planned Parenthood Illinois Action’s website.
“We cannot let the Illinois General Assembly treat women like livestock ever again,” noted Ms. Sutherland. And as Ms. Love asserted, voting for pro-choice candidates does not mean that one is a single-issue voter. “[Voting for pro-choice candidates] says something about what the voter thinks about women and women’s rights,” she said.
And as anti-choice candidates continue to move further and further from the mainstream consensus on issues of reproductive health and contraceptives, their position makes a statement on their views on women’s autonomy, and on a woman’s right to obtain medically sound healthcare that is based on the recommendations of her doctor, rather than the misinformation of ideology.
Pictured above: Marcena Love (right) accepts the Dr. Marvin Rosner Award for Lifetime Achievement from Carole Brite.