A Strange Thing Happening in Western Michigan

A very strange thing is happening in West Michigan: while women across America run away from the Republican Party in droves due to its war on women's health, the local Democratic establishment is backing a candidate who cast a vote to completely defund Planned Parenthood when he was a member of the State House of Representatives in 2001. That person was Steve Pestka, and that vote means Pestka stands for much more than just eradicating abortion -- he in fact voted to deprive about five million women statewide of basic medical screenings if they could not afford to pay for it themselves.

It's hard for me to relay just how detrimental Pestka's positioning is to the wellbeing of women. Not only did he receive a zero rating from Planned Parenthood during his two years serving as a state representative, but he essentially helped popularize the playbook that many of the most radical members of the Republican Party are now using to marginalize women and their health needs.

As President Barack Obama put it in his video address just three weeks ago: "When some professional politicians casually say they'll 'get rid of' Planned Parenthood, don't forget what they're really talking about -- eliminating the funding for preventative care that millions of women rely on and leaving them to fend for themselves."

What's even stranger about this scenario is that the Democratic leaders in Michigan's 3rd Congressional District have a solid alternative, Trevor Thomas, who wholeheartedly supports a woman's right to make her own medical decisions. Thomas is pro-choice and he also comes from a family born of two former GM employees who met at the factory and worked the lines together for 30 years. Trevor Thomas knows what it's like to withstand tough times and he understands that, even after you've logged a lifetime of hard work, financial security is no guarantee. He's the type of candidate who will never forget his humble beginnings in Marne and how fortunate he was to become the first member of his family to attend college.

Regrettably, the women of Michigan know all too well that it only takes one Democrat from our state to limit the rights of women nationwide. I personally have no interest in voting the next Bart Stupak into office while risking the possibility that basic health care access could be stripped from tens of millions of American women across the country.

If you, like me, are concerned about the future of your health care, your mother's health care, or your daughter's health care, you most certainly are not alone. A comprehensive USA Today poll of 12 swing states released earlier this month found that health care was the single most important concern for women in those states. The same poll also found that President Obama was seeing "a huge shift of women to his side." It's no coincidence that women now strongly favor Obama after the likely GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, promised to "get rid of" Planned Parenthood to balance the budget.

Which leads me to a confounding question: Why are a handful of Democratic leaders in West Michigan entirely ignoring the key concerns of some their most loyal voters -- women? Aren't they supposed to find a candidate who will excite us, mobilize us, and, once in office, work tirelessly to protect us and our future?

There's been a lot of talk about West Michigan values lately and who best embodies them. Steve Pestka certainly didn't vote my values in 2001 and 2002. My values don't include depriving women who are struggling financially of access to basic medical services -- services that could, in all actuality, save their lives.

Democratic leaders in West Michigan would surely like us to follow their lead on a decision that they apparently made behind closed doors without regard for a large corps of voters who will populate the polls on primary day. But when I go to the voting booth on August 7, I will be voting for the candidate who believes that I'm fully capable and should be fully empowered to make my own medical decisions, regardless of my means. And until that day, I will be doing everything in my power to make sure Trevor Thomas knows that the women of West Michigan stand with him.