WASHINGTON -- Planned Parenthood’s political arm launched its 2016 election program on Tuesday, signaling that it will hold accountable candidates who have a record of attacking the organization and reproductive health care access.
The launch includes a new website detailing what each of the presidential candidates have said about abortion, birth control and Planned Parenthood funding. The health network will be holding grassroots forums across the country to discuss the organization’s priorities. And a new video featuring Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards warns that the group's supporters will "organize and mobilize to elect lawmakers who are in our corners."
“Extremists have made the 2016 election about attacking reproductive rights,” Richards says in the video. “Politicians who side with these extremists, you are not my candidate."
The organization's electoral effort comes as it faces intensified defunding efforts in the wake of the release of a series of videos filmed and edited by an anti-abortion group showing Planned Parenthood staff members discussing fetal tissue donations for research. Though various federal and state-level investigations have turned up no evidence of wrongdoing, and federal funds are blocked from going toward most abortions, Republican governors in a number of states have cited the videos to justify canceling the group’s Medicaid contracts and cutting off funding for the cancer screenings, STI tests and contraception the organization provides to low-income women.
In 2016, reproductive health care will be an even more charged conversation than usual. Republicans have formed a select investigative panel focused on Planned Parenthood that will scrutinize the organization well into the election year. And the Supreme Court will be ruling this spring on challenges to Texas abortion restrictions and the Affordable Care Act’s accommodation for religious nonprofits that do not want to cover contraception for their employees.
“Today we have a clear message for every politician who has threatened access to reproductive health care, who has said having to drive hundreds of miles to safely access a legal abortion wasn’t a ‘burden,’ and who has made offhand comments about eliminating basic health care for millions across the country: You’re about to be in for a very rude awakening,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “You cannot embrace policies that dismiss the lives of women, of the LGBTQ community, of people of color, of low-income families, of young people, and expect to be elected by the American people.”
Planned Parenthood is confident that reproductive health care access will be a salient issue in the election despite the attacks on its funding. National polling has shown that the organization remains more popular than the National Rifle Association, the Supreme Court, both political parties, every presidential candidate and President Barack Obama. The group saw a near-perfect return on its millions in election spending in 2012, when the 18-point gender gap between Obama and Mitt Romney, who said he would defund Planned Parenthood, helped re-elect the president. In 2014, however, the organization's election investments came up against a terrible year for Democratic candidates.
Though Planned Parenthood appears unlikely to endorse a Democratic presidential candidate this cycle until she or he has the party’s nomination locked up, the group is already educating voters about each of the Republican candidates’ stances on reproductive health care. The election website notes, for instance, that Florida Sen. Marco Rubio supports a ban on abortion with no exceptions for victims of rape and incest; that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush cut state funding for the organization in 2001; and that Texas Sen. Ted Cruz led the effort to shut down the government over Planned Parenthood funding.
On the Senate side, Planned Parenthood says it will be focusing on races in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio, where Democrats hope to defeat relatively vulnerable Republican incumbents, and in Nevada, where they hope to hold the seat of retiring Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The organization’s grassroots forums will take place in the above-mentioned Senate battlegrounds, as well as in Iowa and Florida.
Rachel Siota, who serves as a volunteer for the organization, told The Huffington Post that she felt “this incredible energy and excitement” at a grassroots action forum she attended in Las Vegas earlier this month.
“Everyone was ready to tell their stories and help develop an issue platform around issues that impacted them,” she said. “We talked about issues that matter like access to safe and legal abortion, affordable birth control, and care at Planned Parenthood, and talked about the impacts of these issues on communities of color and the LGBTQ community. I felt like my voice and opinions were heard and I felt empowered because I played a role in developing an issue platform that matters to people.”
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