Early on October 21, police in Claremont, New Hampshire, found a teenager with a hatchet inside a Planned Parenthood clinic. The teen had laid waste to the facility, smashing computers, medical equipment, phones and plumbing fixtures. Two weeks earlier, the same clinic — which provides basic care like birth control and HIV testing but not, actually, abortions — was spray-painted with the word “murderer.”
It was at least the fifth Planned Parenthood clinic to be attacked since mid-July, when the anti-choice Center for Medical Progress began releasing surreptitiously filmed videos showing Planned Parenthood officials discussing the donation of fetal tissue to medical researchers — a process that is entirely legal. The videos were deceptively edited to suggest Planned Parenthood was profiting from the donations, and the portions that were edited out showed the officials explicitly saying they do not. Beyond hatchet and arson attacks, the fallout from the videos has also included a spate of state and congressional investigations — none of which have uncovered any wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood, moves by multiple states to cut off Medicaid funding to the organization and surprise visits to Planned Parenthood offices in Texas by state officials, who demanded reams of patient records and employee information.
On the national stage, the public inquisition peaked in September, when a House committee spent five hours grilling Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards. That hearing lasted roughly twice as long as a Senate hearing a week later in which General John Campbell was questioned about the U.S. bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Afghanistan, a possible war crime. House Republicans have now formed a select committee to do to Planned Parenthood what they did to Hillary Clinton with Benghazi. Who can count the taxpayer dollars wasted by so-called conservatives?
Ironically, when it comes to public opinion, all of these attempts appear to have backfired. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released in late September found that 47 percent of Americans had a positive view of Planned Parenthood. The organization was more popular than the Republican and Democratic parties, all the top presidential candidates and President Obama. Its approval rating had increased slightly since a previous survey in July.
For decades, the Hyde Amendment has banned federal funding for abortion. Exceptions are made only in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment. So when Republicans talk about “defunding” Planned Parenthood, they’re talking about funding for family planning provided through Title X — a program signed into law by President Richard Nixon — and Medicaid funding for basic health care services for low-income people. It’s unlikely that Republicans will be able to cut off this funding while Obama is in office. But extremists in state legislatures across the country have provided a frightening picture of what the entire country could look like under a Republican president. What happens when you defund Planned Parenthood? Ask Texas.
In 2011, the Texas legislature implemented radical health care cuts in an effort to target Planned Parenthood, cutting funding for family planning by about two-thirds. The cuts forced 82 family planning clinics in Texas to close or discontinue family planning services. In 2012, researchers at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (TxPEP) surveyed 318 pregnant women seeking abortions; nearly half reported they were unable to access the birth control they wanted in the three months before their pregnancy.
The situation has gotten worse since then. Despite a people’s filibuster and an 11-hour stand by Texas State Senator Wendy Davis, an omnibus anti-choice law passed in 2013. It gutted abortion access in Texas, causing the number of abortion clinics to drop from 41 to eight as courts lifted or permitted various provisions. Before a court reprieve, the restrictions periodically shuttered the only clinic in the Rio Grande Valley, Whole Woman’s Health in McAllen, putting an internal border checkpoint between undocumented pregnant people in the region and the nearest clinic.
When the Supreme Court decided to take up Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, a case challenging the constitutionality of the Texas law, on November 13, the number of open abortion clinics in Texas stood at 18 and women were remaining pregnant longer than they want to be. TxPEP found that after the number of clinics in the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area was cut in half, women have been waiting up to 20 days on average for an abortion. For many, that inevitably means they will pass beyond the threshold where abortion is possible and give birth to babies they don’t want.
Texas is not the only state where abortion access is under siege. Since 2010, states across the country have enacted nearly 300 restrictions on abortion. These restrictions, which have shuttered clinics and forced people to remain pregnant longer than they want to be, amount to state violence, no less destructive than the hatchet-wielding teenager in New Hampshire. Even though not all of it is making national headlines, resistance to this violence is growing.
On an August day in Virginia, breast cancer patient Leigh Anne Woods stood up at a news conference to defend Planned Parenthood. She removed her shirt. At the podium, Roanoke County Supervisor Al Bedrosian was railing against the local United Way for giving money to Planned Parenthood. That money that is used to fund sex education, not abortion. Woods faced him, displaying her double mastectomy scars.
“You have a problem because they perform abortions,” Woods said, according to local news station WDBJ7. “Look at everything else they do, they save lives!”
“This was about education funding,” Woods later wrote on Facebook. “I took my shirt off, stepped towards him and stood as an example of what education does. Early detection.”
Woods emphasized that her protest was about education, but her actions laid bare what’s really at stake: survival. The stakes are particularly high for low-income people who rely on Planned Parenthood’s affordable health care services.
Since being put on public trial, Planned Parenthood has emphasized that abortion constitutes only 3 percent of its health services. But in the end, that doesn’t matter. The people who want to end legal abortion don’t care how many cancer screenings Planned Parenthood provides. To them, embryos and fetuses are people, and that means the people whose bodies they grow in can never be fully human. So while Planned Parenthood is defending itself, the pro-choice movement has gone beyond defending Planned Parenthood; it is unapologetically defending abortion.
Organizations like the Sea Change Program and Shift, founded by Whole Woman’s Health CEO and founder Amy Hagstrom Miller, have focused on ending the shame and stigma around abortion. In September, the hashtag #ShoutYourAbortion caught fire, with thousands of people shedding the stigma and telling their abortion stories without apology. While the experiences shared on #ShoutYourAbortion were as varied as the people who shared them, the overarching message was loud and clear: Abortion saves and improves lives. That’s a beautiful thing.
Update, November 13, 2015: The content of this article has been updated to include the Supreme Court's decision to take up the case of Whole Woman's Health v. Cole.