opinion   |   column

Let’s take a more active role in defending reproductive rights


Bloomington's Planned Parenthood is located on South College Avenue. IDS file photo Buy Photos

The Planned Parenthood branch in Fort Wayne, Indiana, is now closed for the foreseeable future. Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky, or PPINK, the organization that oversaw the Fort Wayne branch, has publicly attributed this closure to harassment and intimidation by Allen County Right to Life and other anti-abortion groups.

Incidentally, the Planned Parenthood branch in Fort Wayne did not even perform abortions, but its association with the Planned Parenthood parent organization, which provides abortion services at some locations, was enough for it to be condemned.

As a result of right-wing harassment and intimidation, residents of Fort Wayne and its surrounding area now have significantly less access to all sorts of health care services. 

They have lost a local facility that provided birth control services, pregnancy testing, pregnancy care, STD testing, STD prevention, STD treatment, emergency contraception, HIV care, LGBT health services, sexual health care for women and men and factual, science-based health information. 

Just as much as this represents a success for the anti-abortion activists who ran Fort Wayne’s Planned Parenthood into the ground, it represents a failure on the part of those of us who do believe in reproductive rights and universal access to women’s health care.

It’s time for reproductive rights advocates to match the passion and energy of the anti-abortion movement.

We are up against an anti-abortion movement that has shown itself to be willing to use dirty, fierce tactics. PPINK revealed the Ohio-based anti-abortion group Created Equal mailed Fort Wayne households the name, picture and home address of a Planned Parenthood nurse practitioner, saying, “There are killers among us.” These sorts of acts of intimidation make it terrifying to work for abortion providers.

The reproductive rights movement should commit to ensuring the safety of employees of abortion providers. When anti-abortion activists encroach on the facilities of abortion providers, reproductive rights advocates need to establish a presence to ensure they don’t threaten the safety of the providers’ employees or patients.

PPINK has said it hopes and intends to re-establish itself in Fort Wayne. There needs to be a community effort to ensure that happens.

The challenges facing advocates of reproductive rights and health care access are only growing. With Anthony Kennedy leaving the Supreme Court, likely to be soon replaced by President Trump’s nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that affirmed the right to abortion is under serious threat.

Kavanaugh is a conservative judge who has praised Justice William Rehnquist’s dissenting opinion in Roe v. Wade. It is probable that Kavanaugh will be confirmed by the Senate, establishing a 5-4 conservative majority that would scrap the notion of a Constitutional right to an abortion.

Abortions are already very difficult to access for the poor, people in locations without nearby abortion services, minors and others. The overturning of Roe v. Wade would probably make this situation much, much worse. Even more patients will have to travel out-of-state, and many will be unable to access safe abortion services at all.

This challenge will require a national network of people to help spread access to abortion and other reproductive care. Women in need of abortions may need travel assistance, places to stay, food to eat and other forms of support.

Organizers should set up places where out-of-state abortion patients in need can stay for free and know they will be safe. We should help provide rides or bus tickets to patients who can’t afford transportation costs.

Of course, all of this would need to take place alongside a political strategy for preventing the prohibition of abortion. Remember, overturning Roe v. Wade wouldn’t make abortion illegal; it would just allow states to do so at will.

A society that has freedom for women and health care for all its citizens needs to have universal access to a full range of reproductive health services, including abortion. Those of us who recognize that need to put as much effort into defending abortion access as the right puts into eliminating it.

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