Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Planned Parenthood Lobby Day: 500 Stories for Reproductive Rights

We take a brief break from campaign politics as Wendy talks about another side of the political process, our day in Albany lobbying our legislators.


Yesterday Tom and I and dozens of volunteers from Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic joined 500 advocates for Lobby Day in Albany, our state capital.  The day began with coffee, as we'd all started out before sunrise, many coming from Long Island and NYC despite the two feet of snow freshly laid down by Winter Storm Jonas, others coming further distances, from Buffalo, Rochester, all over the state.  

Five hundred strong, we convened to rally and to support the Assemblymembers and Senators who put their votes behind legislation that promotes reproductive rights and family leave.  Particularly compelling was the State Senator who talked about reproductive rights not as a women's issue, but as a human issue.

After the rally, we broke into small groups to meet with the legislators from our own districts and it became clear that there are many ways to advance new legislation.  Some of us talked about the "right thing to do." Others talked about the economic advantages of the legislation.  After years of studying social issues, I find over and over that the right thing to do is usually also good economics.  Studies show that every dollar spent on sex education and contraception translates into a savings of $7.  Quite a return.  

But to me, as always, the most compelling way to talk about issues was with our stories.  As we met with our legislators or their aides, we introduced ourselves by talking about what had drawn us to Planned Parenthood.  And the stories, told by people we'd met just hours earlier, poured out.  One man talked about deciding to join us at the last minute because he knew he had to make a strong statement to his daughters.  One woman told us that her grandmother almost had died from a self-induced abortion.  One told us of an acquaintance who hemorrhaged after a back alley abortion.  And another told us about being pregnant at age 17 in the 70s; she said her parents would have put her on the street had they known she was pregnant, and she would have committed suicide.  But she went to Planned Parenthood, had a safe, legal abortion, and went to Albany as an advocate 40 years later. 

When it was my turn, I talked about going to a local Planned Parenthood for contraception when I was seventeen years old.  A lot of years have intervened and I've forgotten much of my day-to-day life from my teens.  But I continue to have a clear image of myself, young and nervous, sitting in a small office with a health care provider (she had shoulder length brown hair) who educated me patiently and kindly about the various contraceptive methods that were available to my boyfriend and me.  And when we'd talked it all out, my boyfriend and I made a decision about the method that we felt would work best for us.  The boyfriend is my husband now, and we have two grown daughters who were born when we were on our feet financially and emotionally, when we chose to become parents.

My own story pales in comparison to many of the stories I heard yesterday.  But in a way,  it's the most timeless story, because it's one that's still repeated many times each day, day in and day out, at Planned Parenthood health centers across the country.  The number of abortions in the US is steadily declining.  That's not because people of child-bearing age suddenly have decided to abstain.  It's because we have better sex education, better access to contraception,  better insurance coverage for that contraception, and quite simply, better contraception itself.  That's the kind of care we were asking our NY legislators to support.

Later, while we were sitting together between appointments with our legislators, chatting, bonding, having a good time, the woman whose grandmother had performed a self-abortion, her mind still back at what happened two generations ago, quietly said to me, "She did it with knitting needles."  Think about that.

Before we headed to the buses, some of us went into the State Capitol as the NYS Assembly voted on the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act.  There were a lot of no votes up on that leaderboard, but in the end, the bill passed in the Assembly, a good ending to a good day.

The cherry on top?   As we drove home, the bus was quiet, people reading, checking emails, some drifting off to sleep.  And then the quiet was interrupted with the triumphant announcement of the indictment of David Daleiden and his co-conspirators, producers of the fallacious and malicious videos we all read about this past summer.  Though the damage done by those illegal videos can never be undone, a cheer went up.  It was a good day indeed.

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