Last spring, Cecile Richards’s BlackBerry buzzed with an unexpected text message. It was from her son Daniel, a college student in Pennsylvania. He was heading off to Toledo, having organized a bus trip of friends to attend a rally supporting Planned Parenthood. The message came as Congress was debating ending the group’s nearly $100 million in federal funding.
Richards was surprised: Despite her five years now as president of Planned Parenthood, her son had never been active in abortion politics. To her, Daniel and his friends represented a wave of young supporters whom groups such as hers had long struggled to engage. All it took was a sustained attack on government funding of family planning, waged at the federal and state level, to get them there.
The Susan G. Komen Foundation's founder wants to clear up why the charity defunded Planned Parenthood.
Purpose CEO and co-founder Jeremy Heimans speaks with the Washington Post's Emi Kolawole about the Susan G. Komen Foundation's decision to cut off funding to Planned Parenthood and what it could mean for the Foundation's future and branding. (Feb. 2)
Threats to private support haven’t hurt, either. When news broke this past week that the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation had pulled its funding for cancer-screening programs at Planned Parenthood, the public relations disaster boosted Planned Parenthood fundraising and energized supporters. Komen saw such a strong backlash that, within 72 hours, it reversed its decision. An aggressive assault that took the battle beyond abortion to contraceptives and preventive health care may have been just what the abortion rights movement needed.
States passed 92 abortion restrictions in 2011, more than double the total in any other year over the past three decades. Last year was also when the abortion debate expanded beyond a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy. While the Hyde Amendment has long prohibited federal funding of abortion, antiabortion activists have pushed for more stringent restrictions. They turned to national and state legislators to bar abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood, from receiving funds for other services they provide, such as cancer screenings and contraceptives.
“I’ve been at Planned Parenthood for about five years and have spent those years telling people, ‘This is what we do, we see 3 million patients a year,’ and it’s just like the reaction is, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ ” Richards says, reflecting on the congressional funding debate. “In the space of two months, we did more to educate people about who we are and what we do than anything else.”
In wide-ranging interviews over the past month, heads of a half-dozen major women’s groups echoed Richards’s sentiments. They are frustrated at the restrictions that passed in 2011, but they also recognize that the fight finally got young people involved.
For years, abortion rights advocates have battled an intensity gap: Their supporters don’t feel as strongly about protecting abortion access as antiabortion voters do about restricting it. This has been especially true for younger voters, the Millennials who grew up after the Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, with its landmark decision in Roe v. Wade. In 2010, a NARAL Pro-Choice America survey found that most voters under 30 who opposed abortion rights considered it a “very important” voting issue. Among abortion rights supporters, that proportion was 26 percent.