Background: Recently, Planned Parenthood Action, the public policy advocacy arm of Planned Parenthood, has posted a meme to its Facebook page indicating what the new messaging might look like.
It said: “the labels of being pro-choice and pro-life are not so cut and dry. There is a lot of grey area for people who classify themselves in either category”
After sending a letter of concern on January 16, 2013 to Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards and PP of Metropolitan Washington DC President Laura Meyers, they both responded with their views on the proposed change. Those letters appear below. Meantime, the author, a former National Board member of PPFA received numerous responses to his original letter, all of which were supportive of his views as expressed in that 1/16/13 letter.
What appears here now is his new open letter dated January 22, 2013, the 40th anniversary of the US Supreme Court decision of Roe v Wade to Richards and Meyers which offers his further views on the importance of keeping the phrase Pro Choice in PPFA’s lexicon.
Open Letter to PPFA President Cecile Richards
and PPMW President Laura Meyers
January 22, 2013
Dear Cecile and Laura,
I appreciate you both taking the time from your important work and your busy schedules to respond to my concerns about PPFA’s abandoning the Pro Choice label.
Naturally, no one on our side or from the anti choice side will ever forget that PPFA is allied with pro choice. Or the historic moment, 40 years ago today when women received that precious decision from the US Supreme Court. Hardly a ripple of anti choice action here in DC today.
However, in the early 1970’s when I was among a small group of people who helped found Women’s Health Services (WHS) in Pittsburgh, the matter of doing abortions was raised at the PP affiliate board meeting there which I attended. I recall vividly one friend on the local board saying, “Oh, we can’t do that because if we do my friend who gives us $5,000 (a big number in those days) won’t renew her gift.”
WHS went on to organize and provide thousands of early procedures, virtually eliminating sceptic abortions in Western Pennsylvania. The OB/GN heads of the three major hospitals in Pittsburgh offered backup help if needed and in its first week of operation, a perforated uterus was successfully treated by Magee Women’s Hospital.
So PPFA was not always Pro Choice at all levels. In fact, the most eloquent call for PPFA’s involvement in abortion I ever heard was a talk Alan Guttmacher made at a small meeting I attended shortly after I joined the National Board of PPFA in 1968. Even then there was some dispute about PPFA’s handling of abortion.
With urging from USAID Population Chief Reimart Ravenholt, I helped found an international effort now known as Ipas in 1971. Funding to set up a revolving abortion clinic loan fund at PPFA came from the same foundation source where I served as its program officer.
Fortunately, since then, PPFA has done an increasingly good job with abortion services, doing procedures up to 23 weeks here in DC. Sadly, from the outset, as Jack Lippes reminded me when we spoke last week, American hospitals didn’t take up abortion services, which forced outpatient clinics to take over, making the service distinctive, instead of just one of many women need for their reproductive health.
My friend Frances Kissling believes that an abortion decision needs more “gravitas” than a decision to obtain a dental service or have an appendix removed. I have no standing to speak for the process a woman must endure in making her decision to have an abortion, but once made, that service should be as easily, safely and inexpensively (guess there is no “inexpensive” service anymore) as possible, again ideally in a hospital setting. But certainly the cost of abortion services has not been reduced by the opposition’s rules and attacks. Jack tells me the late Dr. Tiller’s clinic will shortly be reopened in Kansas. Such bravery would not be necessary if hospitals absorbed this vital service as just one of many in their female armamentariums.
The facts are “in” on the overwhelming belief by Americans that women should be allowed CHOICE on abortion. According to the Tuesday, January 22, 2013 Wall Street Journal article, “Support Grows For Roe V Wade” by Louise Radnofsky and Ashby Jones,
“Seven in 10 Americans believe Roe v. Wade should stand, according to new data from a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, as the landmark Supreme Court abortion-rights ruling turns 40 on Tuesday.
That is the highest level of support for the decision, which established a woman’s right to an abortion, since polls began tracking it in 1989. The shift is mostly the result of more Democrats backing the decision—particularly Hispanics and African-Americans—and a slight uptick in support from Republicans.
But the poll showed a consistent tension in Americans’ attitudes toward the decision. Almost seven in 10 respondents say there are at least some circumstances in which they don’t support abortion.”
Sally and I spent most of the day yesterday celebrating the inauguration of Barack Obama, first on the Mall, then at a gala party–No, not one Barack and Michelle attended–but his resolve in confronting issues of conflict in his 2nd term was clearly stated in his address.
Seems to me that the political tide is in our favor. Definitely not a time to put Pro Choice in the closet! Poet Richard Blanco’s hopes for all of us about personal freedoms rang clearly. This is a time for resolve, not retreat.
All those who read and responded to my earlier piece defending the continued use by PPFA of the label “Pro Choice” agreed with Sally and me that PPFA’s decision was not what they would have done. PPFA must keep evolving with the times to meet its challenges.
As ardent supporters of the most powerful and effective leader for women’s reproductive rights in the USA, we can only hope that the decision on demoting the Pro Choice label is revocable.
Donald A. Collins
Cecile Richards email in response to my article in N4CM “Planned Parenthood Abandoning ‘Pro-Choice’ Label for ‘No-Labels’ Message”
To: [EMAILS REMOVED]
Sent: 1/18/2013 4:40:06 P.M. Eastern Standard Time
Subj: RE: Don Collins aghast at PPFA Abandoning ‘Pro-Choice’ Label for ‘No-Labels’ Message
Dear Sally and Don:
Thank you for writing and expressing your deeply held convictions about the pro-choice label.
I share your commitment to ensuring safe and legal abortion access for women across the United States and the globe. So do a significant majority of Americans, including a younger generation, who will be responsible for safeguarding and advancing these rights for year to come. The challenge we are facing is that of a movement whose language has not changed for more than 40 years, and which is increasingly misunderstood and alienating to many people who agree with us.
The fundamental belief of Americans was beautifully expressed by Sarah Weddington in her argument before the court – that a woman “has a constitutional right to make that decision for herself.”
And since that decision, Planned Parenthood’s commitment to both legal and real access to abortion has only increased. We do more than any health care provider to ensure that women can make their own decisions about pregnancy, and we’re deeply grateful for your support for that work. As we work to reaffirm that right across the country, in the face of unrelenting political assault, it is more important than ever that we engage the vast majority of Americans – those who identify with the ‘pro-choice’ label and those who don’t – in protecting and advancing women’s access to safe and legal abortion. Attached are some additional thoughts.
Laura Meyers email in response to my article in N4CM
In a message dated 1/17/2013 8:31:01 P.M. Eastern Standard Time, Laura.Meyers@ppmw.org writes:
While for many of us veterans of the movement, the pro-choice label meaningfully represents our standpoint. But, extensive research with a broader audience indicates that these labels do not resonate. I have heard from so many of our supporters that they feel as if we have lost significant ground to our opposition and I think we can all concede based on consistent polling results that the language frame we have used in the past does not serve us well. However, when we move past the prochoice/prolife labels, we come to understand that the vast majority of Americans actually support our position – that of keeping abortion safe and legal for women who need to terminate a pregnancy. I strongly believe that in order to reshape the abortion dialogue in a way that resonates with more people, we must move beyond labels regardless of our attachment to them. This is a long game, not a short term one. As we have seen with marriage equality, changes in public attitudes shape political reality. I believe that if we want to move beyond the status quo, we need to speak a language that people readily understand and with which they can relate in terms of their own lives. I think having a more authentic conversation will do so.
As always, thank you for your thoughtful comments. Warm regards to you and Sally,
My N4CM piece on PPFA abandoning Pro Choice Label for “No labels’ message.
Wall Street Journal January 22, 2013 article, “Support Grows For Roe V Wade”.
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