Tuesday, July 17, was the Planned Parenthood Public Affairs Retreat and Roundtable. I was not privy to most of the roundtable, but I did have a press pass to see Mrs. Edwards, Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton speak about choice. Let me tell you, we have a commitment from these three candidates, as well as others, regarding choice. I’m glad to see that these highly sought after candidates were there, and I was excited by what they said. I’m also incredibly impressed by Planned Parenthood for getting these big names, and throwing a great event.
Cecile Richards opened the session, after a prayer, pledging that Planned Parenthood was on the offense, and is aiming to have one million new voters at the 2008 Presidential elections. She reviewed the political milestones and achievements from the 2006 elections, which, frankly, I don’t see having had too much change on the choice agenda. But maybe I’m just bitter about SCOTUS.
[I also want to note that there were few bloggers there – on the list I saw Blogher and RHRealityCheck, but no DailyKos, no MyDD, no RedState – so…since this is a women’s issue none of the big bloggers want to show up? So, to the bloggers: why weren’t you at the Planned Parenthood event? The New York Times was there. CNN covered it. Some of the feminist bloggers were there. Where were you? Are women’s issues not a priority? Or did I just miss you on the list of five blogs represented?]
All three speakers framed choice broadly, but I think Mr. Obama had the widest view of choice. I’ll get to that later.
Mrs. Edwards gets my vote for strongest commitment to choice. She was there speaking on behalf of her husband, who she says has always been and will always be a supporter of choice. Mrs. Edwards, like the others, highlighted the fact that women with limited means have unmet needs, including contraception, primary healthcare, and preventative care. She underscored her husband’s commitment to the poor, saying that both Planned Parenthood and he are concerned with the same group of people. She said that under Mr. Edwards’ health plan, Planned Parenthood would be a covered provider of services.
Mrs. Clinton gets my vote for most improved. She didn’t once call abortion tragic. She said that for many, Planned Parenthood is the only place for healthcare, and that Planned Parenthood provides services beyond family planning, including prenatal care and cancer screening. Mrs. Clinton took a worldview, mentioning her time in Beijing at the women’s conference and citing forced parenthood in Romania and China’s one child policy. She said that in both cases the government was dictating the private decision a woman can make.
Mrs. Clinton continued in her global vein, decrying the global gag rule and likening that policy to domestic policies including President Bush’s appointment of two anti-choice Justices, the failure of the DoJ rape protocol to include emergency contraception and the former Surgeon General’s testimony that he had been censored by the administration.
Mrs. Clinton said, “When I am President, I will devote my very first days to reversing anti-choice, anti-science policies this administration has put into place…starting with the Global Gag Rule.” Really, you can’t beat that. She continued by saying that she will restore fundamental constitutional freedoms, which, I assume, include abortion rights.
Mr. Obama really highlighted the role of men, which I think is interesting. We don’t always include men in our movement, but they are a central part of it. There were numerous young men who attended the Roundtable, as they work as peer educators in Planned Parenthood clinics. Anyway, I liked that. Mr. Obama was also excited by the appearance of young people who are getting involved in politics. Regardless, he focused much of his speech on “our daughters” of which he has two. It’s a great message to the parents of America, but I don’t imagine it resonating with the young single women who, like myself, aren’t quite daughters, and certainly aren’t mothers. He did, however, frame the issue as one of equal rights under the law, and talked about his role as a law professor.
Mrs. Edwards said that Mr. Edwards would never equivocate on a woman’s right to choose, which was a heartening message. She later stated that her husband would not compromise on choice, because “our lives are not fodder for compromise.” That’s right!
So the broader theme was that of respect and equality for women. Mrs. Edwards said that the fight for choice is about women’s equality and dignity, and that questioning a woman’s reproductive decision making is demeaning. Mrs. Edwards said that we need to trust women to make their own choices, and that the government should not be involved.
Federal Abortion Ban
Mrs. Edwards opposes an abortion ban that has no health exception. She said that Mr. Edwards did not vote for federal abortion ban (he didn’t vote at all, though), the Santorum bill and voted to insert language that would have inserted a health exception (the Durbin amendment).
Mrs. Clinton, who was in office then, voted against the bill, and Mr. Obama was not yet a Senator. I gotta say, I’m not happy that Mr. Edwards didn’t vote against the bill. What kind of not equivocating is that? Mrs. Clinton highlighted the role of precedence in our judicial system, saying that the right to choice is fundamental.
Mr. Obama decried the decision, which is under “Supreme Court.”
Mr. Edward’s health care plan includes reproductive health services including “pregnancy termination.” Mrs. Edwards noted that for many women, their annual well-woman check up is their point of entry into the healthcare system. She said that all health insurance plans should cover prescriptions, including birth control and emergency contraception [note: emergency contraception does not require a prescription, so is not covered by prescription drug plans as part of health insurance].
Mrs. Clinton said that there are policies, like the lack of increase in Title X funding and the Medicaid documentation rules that make providing reproductive health services more difficult, and that she will focus, like Mr. Edwards, on low-income women who do not have access to healthcare. Mrs. Clinton supports contraceptive equity, pointing out that women pay more than men for health insurance during their reproductive years.
Abstinence Only Education
All candidates were asked specifically about ab-only education, and they all were against it. Mrs. Clinton called it “ignorance-only” education. Mrs. Edwards cited evidence that teen birth rates have dropped since 1991, and that information and access to condoms results in more deliberation and abstention from sex. Mrs. Edwards says that she wants comprehensive, honest sex ed.
Mr. Obama said that people need to make good choices before pregnancy, which includes a moral component to prevention. He highlighted the National Black Churches Initiative which works within the African American community on teen sexuality. Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have co-sponsored the Prevention First Act.
Mrs. Clinton said that the way to reduce abortion rates is to reduce the rates of unwanted pregnancy, which is why she founded the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy when she was First Lady. The focus there is on prevention, which is why she is a co-sponsor of the Prevention First Act. She pointed out that conservatives who say they are anti-abortion are also waging a war on contraception. She continued to say that abortion and choice are only half the battle, and that ab-only education is the other half. Abstinence only education is factually inaccurate, and she cited the recent Mathematica study which reviewed the inaccuracies contained in these federally funded programs.
The candidates often pointed to the administration’s derision of science, including the recent hearing by the former Surgeon General, who testified that he was censored by the administration. Mrs. Edwards says that her husband will follow good medicine and good science, and appoint a Surgeon General who is committed to medicine, not idealogy.
The Supreme Court
Mrs. Edwards highlighted the role of the Supreme Court in choice, saying that the recent decision creates a serious threat to choice. She said that to have a pro-choice Supreme Court, we need a pro-choice President.
Mr. Obama, as a lawyer and former law professor, went into some analysis of the recent SCOTUS decision, saying that there exists a “fundamental right to choose” under our Constitution. He said that five men don’t know better than women their doctors. He summarized Justice Ginsberg’s dissent by characterizing it as “we’ve been there before and we’re not going back.” Mr. Obama also cited the Court’s recent decisions with respect to equal pay and integration as further problems with the Supreme Court Justices. He reminded us that he voted against confirmation of Justice Alito and Chief Justice Roberts [Mrs. Clinton voted no on both nominees as well].
Mrs. Clinton spoke not only of President Bush appointing two anti-choice Supreme Court Justices, but about lower federal courts, including Judge Pryor and Judge Owens, both of whom were considered by the administration for the Supreme Court. She also spoke of the importance of precedent, and that Roe embodies our most fundamental rights.
Mrs. Edwards took the large view, saying that choices for women are not just about abortion or contraception, but include comprehensive sex ed, health care, access to emergency contraception, child care, living wages and freedom from violence.
Mr. Obama really focused on a large view of equality, asking if our daughters will “have the same rights, dreams and freedoms to pursue happiness?” He said he will not yield on the fundamental issue of choice, and says that choice is not solely about abortion but “how we lead our lives.” He said that the struggle for equality is a struggle for opportunity, and included economic security, paid maternity leave, affordable quality child care and family sick leave as necessary conditions for women to succeed.
Here’s what I love. He said, “Our daughters have no limits but the shape of their dreams.” He also said that we should not be “settling for what America is, but working for what America might be.” Children should dream without limit and achieve without constraint. The man is a great speaker.