Planned Parenthood, NARAL plan for the storm ahead 

Birth patrol

click to enlarge Renovations have erased the structural damage. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Renovations have erased the structural damage.

Emma Blackburn has taken three friends to doctors' appointments for intrauterine devices (IUDs) since the balance of power tipped. They came to her for guidance because she had already gotten an IUD for herself. She chose the long-acting (but reversible) pregnancy prevention plan as a precaution against the electoral outcome that eventually did come to pass. Now, an anti-choice majority is about to take over the federal government, meaning future access to cheap and safe reproductive health care is far from guaranteed.

Some Republican lawmakers have incorrectly called IUDs an abortifacient. An IUD does not induce miscarriage. Rather, the tiny, T-shaped copper or plastic device is a contraceptive, meaning it works doubly to stop sperm from reaching an egg and, if fertilization does happen, prevent the embryo from implanting on the uterine wall. It's covered as "preventive care" by the Affordable Care Act, now jeopardized by the new administration's "repeal and replace" promise.

"It sucks now that women have to think about which contraceptive is going to outlast this administration, not which is best for their body," says Blackburn, 22, whose name here is changed for privacy and safety. "People are rushing to get their [birth control plan] squared away, yeah, but they're also waking up to just how fragile their reproductive rights really are."

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM) has seen a 15 percent uptick in appointments for birth control and over 500 new volunteer sign-ups since Nov. 8, according to senior communications director Whitney Phillips. PPRM, serving Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Southern Nevada, also raised $500,000-plus from 3,000 donors on Colorado Gives Day — an annual fundraising campaign for nonprofits that ended Dec. 6. That's more donors than gave to any of the 2,139 other participating organizations.

Blackburn, a five-year volunteer, ramped up her involvement last year after a deranged gunman killed three people at the local Planned Parenthood clinic. Around that tragedy's one-year anniversary, this election and its implications have motivated her even more.

"Every time I walk out [of the clinic] I feel such gratitude, like I got exactly what I needed in a really validating way," she tells the Indy. "And then after last year, there was this feeling like we might not be safe seeking health care. That might've scared some people away, but my reaction, at least, was to stand the hell up and not let it stop me. [...] Now, there's this whole other threat to it. More than ever, we need to make sure [Planned Parenthood] is here to stay."

Threats to the low-barrier provider are nothing new. Conservatives have been chomping at the bit to neuter the organization for years.

The call to defund Planned Parenthood flared up in summer 2015 when the Center for Medical Progress, a phony medical group run by activists, released a series of deceptively edited undercover videos purportedly showing the improper sale of aborted "baby parts." The sting operation inspired congressional Republicans, including Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, to push legislation stripping PP's federal funding, which failed as it has many times. Amid the hysteria, prosecutors found no evidence of wrongdoing in the footage that captured snippets of doctors discussing donation of fetal tissue for medical research, a legal and life-saving practice. A grand jury in Texas tasked with investigating allegations against Planned Parenthood instead found reason to indict the covert filmmakers for tampering with governmental records and offering to purchase fetal tissue. Those charges have since been dropped, but similar ones await them in a pending California case.

The whole affair, though concocted and ultimately immaterial, stoked the ire of those already opposed to PP. Among them was Robert Dear, accused of terrorizing the Colorado Springs clinic, though the mainstream pro-life movement has denied association with him. Records detailing probable cause are sealed per a judge's order, but Dear reportedly yelled "no more baby parts!" while being apprehended and since declared himself a "warrior of the babies" in court.

Still, more than two dozen states pursued measures to pull federal monies from Planned Parenthood — which, per the Hyde Amendment, don't fund abortions anyway; that's why defunding effectively only restricts PP's more popular services like STD testing, cancer screenings and sex education. In response, the Department of Health and Human Services created a new rule forbidding states from devising their own criteria to disqualify otherwise qualified providers from Medicaid and Title IX reimbursements.

But President-elect Trump's pick to head that department, Congressman Tom Price, R-Georgia, is a staunch anti-choice, anti-birth control and anti-Planned Parenthood crusader who's likely to let states decide which reproductive health care providers to exclude from Medicaid (if Medicaid continues to exist at all).

Women's health advocates are gearing up for the coming storm.

Karen Middleton, executive director of NARAL Pro-choice Colorado — which protects access to reproductive health care — says, "It's going to take a little while for [challenges] to come together, which is good because it gives us time." She's expecting efforts to nix birth-control coverage as a mandate, restrict abortion access or move a Roe v. Wade challenge through the courts. Whether state or local governments can stop those policy changes is a question on NARAL's radar, Middleton says, emphasizing that multiple rejections of statewide personhood ballot questions show that in Colorado, public opinion is on their side. "And I think that's why we're seeing all these new faces at our volunteer meetings."

NARAL volunteers, separate but in coordination with PP's 501(c)(4) side, get email alerts about forthcoming bills. They testify at hearings, work festivals, fairs and other public events, write letters to the editor and share stories on social media. A January coffee meeting will help prospective volunteers learn options for engagement and network with other like-minded people.

"People are busy, sure," says PPRM legislative and political director Ashley Wheeland, "but we need all the help we can get right now."

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