by Judith McCarrick
Let’s start with the good news. Viola Davis won an Emmy for Best Actress in a Television Drama for her lead role in “How to Get Away With Murder.” Aside from her enormous talent, Davis’ win is significant because she is the first African-American woman to receive this award. In her powerful acceptance speech, she quoted Harriet Tubman, and she also said, “And let me tell you something. The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.” In an industry which is well-known for its discrimination against women, particularly women of color, Davis shone some light on this practice. Give women of color the opportunity and they prove they can deliver. Give all women opportunities and they achieve. We’ve always know this and we will continue to demand opportunities for ourselves. Viola Davis’s Emmy is a good first step.
The second piece of good news is that Democrats in the U.S. Senate, joined by some Republicans, blocked an effort on September 24th to deny federal funds for Planned Parenthood in a move that helped avoid a government shutdown. Forty-two Democrats, two independents and eight Republicans joined together to stop the anti-abortion effort on a procedural vote, 11 more than the 41 needed to block the legislation. We know that even though millions of women receive their health care through Planned Parenthood and not one penny of Planned Parenthood’s government funding is used to pay for abortions, there continue to be relentless attacks by right-wing politicians and their constituents. The Senate vote is a small but important victory for Planned Parenthood and the women who depend on it.
The bad news. The systematic, well-funded, highly organized attacks on Planned Parenthood deserve exposure. The link above (to RHRealityCheck.org) reveals a list of organizations such as Operation Rescue (which harassed abortion provider Dr. George Tiller for decades before he was murdered), and the so-called Center for Medical Progress, which was responsible for illegally filming and heavily editing discussions with Planned Parenthood staff, in which CMP members posed as procurers of human fetal tissue designated for research. Fetal tissue may only be used or sold post-abortion with the consent of the woman undergoing the procedure. Although some researchers may obtain fetal tissue directly from abortion clinics at their own medical facilities, others have to purchase it from middlemen who pay fees to providers such as Planned Parenthood for specimens and then resell those specimens to researchers ( read more on how this actually works). Scientists have worked with fetal tissue since the 1930s. The 1954 Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded for work with fetal tissue that led to developing a vaccine against polio. The National Institutes of Health spent $76 million on human fetal tissue research in fiscal 2014. The truth is that fetal tissue has been used for years for medical research, including important research on AIDS and muscular dystrophy. Some experimental treatments for spinal cord injury and macular degeneration involve transplanting fetal cells into patients. Fetal tissue is also critical to stem cell research.
Despite knowing the immense value of using legally obtained fetal tissue, despite being presented with evidence that Planned Parenthood provides health care that saves lives, politicians, whose ideology overshadows their interest in or concern for treatments and cures that could benefit millions, continue to rage against Planned Parenthood and demand that it be de-funded. What is at the bottom of this single-minded vitriol?
Fear is what drives the anti-Planned Parenthood movement. Fear of power. Fear that women who can control their health care can control their destinies. Fear that women, particularly those from under-served populations who have access to birth control and family planning, will gain power through education and jobs. Fear that women who receive early screening for breast and cervical cancers will overcome these diseases and lead independent, productive lives.
When women can be denied basic health care, and family planning control in particular, they lack opportunities. They are more apt to be financially dependent, to contribute less to the economy, to be less well-educated, and to die at younger ages than their sisters who receive consistent, good-quality health care. Planned Parenthood is key to closing the gap between poor health care (or even no health care) and good health care. There is every reason to support the health care provided by Planned Parenthood and absolutely no reason to de-fund and attack their vital services.