I wrote on August 4 that a July 28 New York Times article about Planned Parenthood’s decision to abandon the term “pro-choice” had triggered a race war within the abortion movement.
This was because Planned Parenthood steered NYT journalist Jackie Calmes to seven white leaders of abortion groups for quotes but no women of color.
Plus, Planned Parenthood gave no credit to WOC groups for expanding on abortion advocacy to include other “reproductive justice” issues, a term WOC coined two decades ago. This July 31 tweet didn’t come out of nowhere…
On August 5 the racial schism burst into the open when Monica Simpson, Executive Director of SisterSong, published “An Open Letter to Planned Parenthood” at the pro-abortion website RH Reality Check:
Whether stemming from oversight or from deliberate exclusion, the New York Times story, “Advocates Shun ‘Pro-Choice’ to Expand Message,” and the Huffington Post essay, “We’re Fighting for Access, Not Choice,” suggests very clearly that Planned Parenthood did not inform the reporters of the long-term work of scores of reproductive justice organizations, activists, and researchers that have challenged the “pro-choice” label for 20 years.
Many of us received feedback from… Jackie Calmes, confirming that this history was not presented to her by the mainstream reproductive rights organizations with which she spoke. This is not only disheartening but, intentionally or not, continues the co-optation and erasure of the tremendously hard work done by Indigenous women and women of color (WOC) for decades.
[W]omen of color RJ organizations have sought to instill a reproductive justice framework into these fights – not always with the support of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America or its affiliates.
In fact, in 2011, when Planned Parenthood and other allies were given the opportunity to understand and work on the intersectionality of issues in Mississippi while working in partnership with SisterSong, the organization failed to step forward. The fight to defeat both the “personhood” and the voter identification amendment reflected a clear attack on the rights of Black women in the state.
Yet, when urged to see the connection between reproductive health rights and voting rights, PPFA rejected the notion. As a result, “personhood” was defeated and the voter ID initiative passed, leaving Mississippi more vulnerable to new “personhood,” anti-abortion, and other discriminatory and counterproductive laws in the future.
As an aside, that was an interesting take on how voter ID laws may negatively impact abortion at the ballot box. If the theory holds true, voter ID laws will not just help pro-life voter initiatives but also pro-life candidates.
Another aside, it’s also interesting that RH Reality Check published this letter.
Simpson (pictured left) listed several demands that included a “face-to-face meeting between executive directors of national WOC-led RJ organizations and PPFA leadership….”
“This public infighting is something we never used to see,” noted Cheryl Sullenger, senior policy advisor for Operation Rescue, in an email. “They used to keep this kind of thing behind closed doors. It’s a good sign for us.”
Then here’s another good sign, a July 29 letter to the editor in the New York Times from Susan Wysocki (pictured below right), board chairwoman of Catholics for Choice:
As a lifetime advocate for women’s health, I fear that your article may give rise to a misperception about the reality of abortion rights advocacy by highlighting the campaign strategy of one organization, Planned Parenthood….
Election cycle messaging campaigns, whatever they may be, cannot obscure this simple fact: If you will not say that you are in favor of choice, you are no advocate for women’s health and lives.
So Planned Parenthood is now publicly engaged in a two-front war with groups on its own side, on the issues of racism and strategy.
Sabotaging abortion zen
I cannot overstate how unsettling it was to the equilibrium of the abortion movement for Planned Parenthood to publicly renounce the truly hallowed term “pro-choice.” “Pro-choice” is their identity, it protects them, it lets them sleep at night.
It is even the legal name of hundreds if not thousands of groups, like Catholics for Choice (see above), Center for Choice, Choice USA, Clinicians for Choice, Feminists for Choice, Medical Students for Choice, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Republicans for Choice, Rock for Choice, Voice of Choice, 4000 Years for Choice, etc.
At least one Planned Parenthood even has “choice” in its name: Planned Parenthood Center for Choice in Houston.
But back to Planned Parenthood and its racism problem – which is really nothing new since it was founded on racism and eugenics – Planned Parenthood CEO Cecile Richards issued a response in an “Open Letter on Reproductive Justice and ‘Choice'” within hours after Simpson posted her open letter.
The buck does NOT stop here (unless it’s $$)
Interestingly, Richards never addressed the huge gaffes Planned Parenthood made in shaping the NYT article other than to say she was “eager to talk to you about the events of the last few weeks, and what we can learn from this experience going forward.” There was no apology.
Furthermore, although Simpson addressed her letter specifically to Planned Parenthood, outlining where Planned Parenthood had failed WOC abortion groups, Richards dragged the rest of the abortion industry into the melee, writing “how Planned Parenthood and other organizations have sometimes fallen short….”
I’m sure groups formerly known as “pro-choice” appreciate standing with Planned Parenthood as racists.
[Photo of Simpson via elixher.com; photo of Wysocki via flickr.com]