OPINION: Family planning leader sees hopeful signs but concerns linger
07.02.12 | Tulsa World
July 01– “There used to be a postage stamp for family planning back in the ’70s,” recalls Jill June, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland.
It seems hard to believe now, but that was a time when family planning legislation was supported and sponsored by such conservative stalwarts as President Richard Nixon, George H. W. Bush and Barry Goldwater.
What a difference a few decades makes. Now, Planned Parenthood is a frequent target — perhaps the most popular target — of many conservatives, and there’s no sign the attacks are on the wane.
So what happened over the last 30 years? What’s in store for the next few years? Can Americans, can Oklahomans, find any common ground on these issues?
June, whose four-state organization now includes Oklahoma’s Planned Parenthood system, was in town recently and shared her insights about the past, present and future of family planning and reproductive health. She sees some hopeful signs on these fronts, but she also sees no end in sight to the conflicts and controversies.
As president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Heartland, June oversees the operation of 31 heath centers in Iowa, Nebraska, Arkansas and Oklahoma. She has helped guide five mergers and consolidations, including the last one earlier this year which brought Oklahoma and Arkansas into the organization. She also has held numerous national leadership positions.
June believes the upcoming elections will be a barometer of what lies ahead on the reproductive rights front. “I think there are a variety of constituencies. There are women — and men — who care about these issues, about things like the availability of contraception. … If people vote around the issues they care about it could make a difference,” she said.
Voters have already made a difference in a few instances. Case in point: personhood.
In those states where personhood has made it onto the ballot, it has failed, in part because educational campaigns helped voters understand the potential consequences, June believes. “It’s a losing proposition when you put it in front of voters. So on the good side, you’ve educated a lot of voters. But that comes at a very high price, which could go toward more productive uses.”
Here in Oklahoma, a proposed personhood measure which in effect would have imbued fertilized human eggs with the same rights as people did not advance, certainly in part because of a vocal and persuasive backlash.
Women who had undergone fertility treatments, physicians and other advocates fought back fiercely and in the end, the measure stalled in the Legislature.
Now that the personhood debate has played out, “the genie’s out of the bottle. These patients are willing to stand up and fight and their voices are very powerful.”
When this sort of phenomenon occurs, the public is made aware that these measures have real consequences that hurt real people. “There’s no escaping the fact that it’s your neighbor or your friend or your nephew or your sister-in-law. It’s hard to ignore it when it has a name and a face,” said June.
Another positive sign is the introduction of sex education in Tulsa-area schools earlier this year with very little backlash, or even ordinary debate for that matter. Four area school districts offered the evidence-based program to students with parental permission, and there’s hardly been a peep from parents.
June believes the abstinence-only movement now falling out of favor unintentionally served to “bolster local concerns and start a conversation that didn’t exist before.” That “conversation” helped pave the way for the relatively uneventful inauguration of sex education here.
Planned Parenthood staff in Oklahoma also were pleasantly surprised when a whopping 33 measures of interest to them got whittled down to only three in the last legislative session. And, three court decisions — two declaring new abortion laws unconstitutional and a third declaring a personhood initiative petition unconstitutional — also give them cause for hope. Oklahoma lobbyists hope to make headway next session on more productive measures such as the adoption of comprehensive sexuality education in public schools and access to emergency contraception in emergency rooms.
But for every positive, hopeful sign, there are many more that give June cause for continued concern. When the new Congress took office after the midterm elections, Planned Parenthood funding was among its first targets.
“Cookie-cutter legislation” inspired in part by Congress’ attacks “started rolling through the states,” picking up steam in places like Oklahoma and Texas. Former presidential candidate Rick Perry took on the cause and kept fanning the flames. Rush Limbaugh brought the debate to a new low by referring to a woman advocating contraception access by a vulgar term. Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney famously declared, “Planned Parenthood, we’re going to get rid of that,” later explaining he was referring to the agency’s federal family planning funding.
And while Oklahoma’s judges have shown remarkable courage and professionalism in deciding reproductive-health issues, the fact remains that controversial decisions are not without repercussions. June points to the experience of three Iowa Supreme Court justices who were among the unanimous majority ruling in favor of gay marriage in that state in 2009. The three, including the chief justice, were up for retention in the fall of 2010.
“We were carpet-bombed by advertisements,” recalled June, referring to outside forces that targeted the judges. The advertisements were so effective “there was a two-hour line to vote” in that election. In the end, the three judges were voted out of office. It was the first time since 1962, when the retention system was adopted, that a high court judge had not been retained.
If the antipathy towards family planning and reproductive rights grows, “what does that get us?”
“It (family planning) makes such good economic sense. For every dollar spent on family planning, $4 is saved the very year you spend it,” said June. “It’s a very smart thing to do economically. It’s a smart thing to do to alleviate human suffering. So why is it a political football?”
Janet Pearson 918-581-8328